B cells differentiate from pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells (pHSCs) in a series of distinct stages. During early embryonic development, pHSCs migrate into the fetal liver, where they develop and mature to B cells in a transient wave, which preferentially populates epithelia and lung as well as gut-associated lymphoid tissues. This is followed by continuous B cell development throughout life in the bone marrow to immature B cells that migrate to secondary lymphoid tissues, where they mature. At early stages of development, before B cell maturation, the gene loci encoding the heavy and light chains of immunoglobulin that determine the B cell receptor composition undergo stepwise rearrangements of variable region-encoding gene segments. Throughout life, these gene rearrangements continuously generate B cell repertoires capable of recognizing a plethora of self-antigens and non–self-antigens. The microenvironment in which these B cell repertoires develop provide signaling molecules that play critical roles in promoting gene rearrangements, proliferation, survival, or apoptosis, and that help to distinguish self-reactive from non–self-reactive B cells at four distinct checkpoints. This refinement of the B cell repertoire directly contributes to immunity, and defects in the process contribute to autoimmune disease.


Fritz Melchers


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