The study of human B cell tolerance has been hampered by difficulties in identifying a sizable population of autoreactive B lymphocytes whose fate could be readily determined. Hypothesizing that B cells expressing intrinsically autoreactive antibodies encoded by the VH4-34 heavy chain gene (VH4-34 cells) represent such a population, we tracked VH4-34 cells in healthy individuals. Here, we show that naive VH4-34 cells are positively selected and mostly restricted to the follicular mantle zone. Subsequently, these cells are largely excluded from the germinal centers and underrepresented in the memory compartment. In healthy donors but not in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), these cells are prevented from differentiating into antibody-producing plasma cells. This blockade can be overcome ex vivo using cultures of naive and memory VH4-34 cells in the presence of CD70, IL-2, and IL-10. VH4-34 cells may therefore represent an experimentally useful surrogate for autoantibody transgenes and should prove valuable in studying human B cell tolerance in a physiological, polyclonal environment. Our initial results suggest that both positive and negative selection processes participate in the maintenance of tolerance in autoreactive human B cells at multiple checkpoints throughout B cell differentiation and that at least some censoring mechanisms are faulty in SLE.
Aimee E. Pugh-Bernard, Gregg J. Silverman, Amedeo J. Cappione, Michael E. Villano, Daniel H. Ryan, Richard A. Insel, Iñaki Sanz