Analyses of Single B Cells by Polymerase Chain Reaction Reveal Rearranged VH with Germline Sequences in Spleens of Immunized Adult Rabbits: Implications for B Cell Repertoire Maintenance and Renewal
We used PCR to amplify rearranged VHDJH genes in single cells collected by micromanipulation from splenic germinal centers of immunized adult rabbits. In the course of the study, the objective of which was to analyze diversification of rearranged VHDJH sequences, we were surprised to find cells 7 and 10 days after immunization with rearranged VH1a2 as well as a-negative (y33 and x32) sequences that were identical or close to germline (10 or fewer changes). About 58% (82/140) of the sequences had unique CDR3 regions and were unrelated. In seven different germinal centers, we found one to four different clones with two to seven members. Clonally related cells underwent diversification by hypermutation and gene conversion. We found that contrary to published reports, adult rabbits indeed have newly diversifying B cell receptors in splenic germinal centers. The attractive idea that the rabbit, like the chicken, develops its B cell repertoire early in life and depends upon self-renewing cells in the periphery to maintain its B lymphocyte pool throughout life, is challenged by the current finding. Although a major population of B lymphocytes may be generated early in life, diversified extensively, and maintained by self-renewal in the periphery, some sources of cells with sequences close to germline do exist in adult rabbits and appear in the developing germinal centers. Although considerable repertoire diversity is generated in young rabbits, mechanisms for continued generation of B cell receptor diversity are retained in adult life, where they may confer survival advantage.