The Ig heavy chain locus contains a number of binding sites for the transcriptional activator, c-Rel. In this study, we evaluated the capacity of B cells from mice made genetically deficient in the C-terminal, transactivation domain of the c-Rel protein (delta c-Rel) to undergo Ig class switching. Flow-cytometric and digestion circularization PCR analyses revealed that delta c-Rel B cells failed to switch to IgG3 in response to LPS alone, or to IgG1 or IgE in response to LPS + IL-4. This failure to switch to IgG3 or IgG1 was associated with a corresponding loss of germline CH gamma 3 or CH gamma 1 RNA. However, the defective switching to IgE in delta c-Rel B cells was associated with normal levels of germline CH epsilon RNA relative to control B cells. The ability of delta c-Rel B cells to switch to IgG1, in response to LPS + IL-4, could be restored through the action(s) of additional stimuli, and this was associated with induction of normal levels of germline CH gamma 1 RNA relative to controls. In contrast, LPS-activated B cells from delta c-Rel mice underwent normal switching to IgA in the presence of TGF-beta, relative to control B cells. This was associated with equivalent steady state levels of germline CH alpha RNA between the two B cell populations. These data are the first to demonstrate a key and selective role for c-Rel in the regulation of Ig class switching. Furthermore, distinct differences are revealed in the Ig isotype induction profiles of B cells lacking c-Rel activity vs those deficient in p50/nuclear factor-kappa B.

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