IgG, IgA, and IgE production by newborn B cells is limited both in vivo and in vitro in various activation conditions, whereas IgM production is readily detectable. It has been suggested that the Ig heavy chain switch inability could be the consequence of T and B cell immaturity. As the interaction between CD40 (expressed on B cells) and its ligand CD40-L (expressed on activated T cells) triggers a key signal required for isotype switching, we studied the expression and function of these two components in normal fetuses, newborns, and infants, compared with adults. CD40-L expression was not inducible in 28 of 30 specimens of newborn cord-blood T cells following incubation with PMA and ionomycin, whereas activation markers such as CD69 were inducible. CD40-L expression was triggered by activation of T cells from infants > 3 wk of age. Surprisingly, T cells from 19- to 28-wk-old fetuses also expressed CD40-L following activation. CD40-L expression on newborn T lymphocytes was induced on T cell lines generated in the presence of PHA and maintained with IL-2 following further stimulation with PMA and ionomycin. CD40-L mRNA transcripts and intracytoplasmic protein expression following activation of newborn T cells were strongly decreased, leading to undetectable protein membrane detection. These results point to a possible transcriptional down-regulation of CD40-L expression by neonatal T lymphocytes. In addition, fetal and cord-blood B cells were poorly able to switch to IgG or IgA by stimulation with CD40 agonists (Ab or soluble CD40-L) in the presence of IL-4 or IL-10 as also detected with surface IgD+ adult B cells. Both phenomena could contribute to the neonatal Ig switch inability, although distinct underlying regulatory mechanisms are probably involved, as suggested by different in vivo time courses.

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