GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Raymond M. Welsh, Ph.D.


Cytotoxicity, Immunologic, Histocompatibility Antigens Class II, Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, Antigen Presentation, B-Lymphocyte Subsets, Lymphocyte Activation, Receptors, Antigen, B-Cell, Autoimmunity


CD4 T cells and B cells are cells associated with the adaptive immune system. The adaptive immune system is designed to mount a rapid antigen-specific response to pathogens by way of clonal expansions of T and B cells bearing discrete antigen-specific receptors. During viral infection, interactions between CD4 T cells and B cells occur in a dynamic process, where B cells that bind to the virus internalize and degrade virus particles. The B cells then present viral antigens to virus-specific CD4 T cells that activate the B cells and cause them to proliferate and differentiate into virus-specific antibody-secreting cells. Yet, non-specific hypergammaglobulinemia and the production of self-reactive antibodies occur during many viral infections, and studies have suggested that viral antigen-presenting B cells may become polyclonally activated by CD4 T cells in vivo in the absence of viral engagement of the B cell receptor. This presumed polyclonal B cell activation associated with virus infection is of great medical interest because it may be involved in the initiation of autoimmunity or contribute to the long-term maintenance of B cell memory.

In order to directly examine the interactions that occur between T cells and B cells, I asked what would happen to a polyclonal population of B cells that are presenting viral antigens, if they were transferred into virus-infected hosts. I performed these studies in mice using the well-characterized lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) model of infection. I found that the transferred population of antigen-presenting B cells had two fates. Some antigen-expressing B cells were killed in vivo by CD4 T cells in the first day after transfer into LCMV-infected hosts. However, B cells that survived the cytotoxicity underwent a dynamic polyclonal activation manifested by proliferation, changes in phenotype, and antibody production.

The specific elimination of antigen-presenting B cells following adoptive transfer into LCMV-infected hosts is the first evidence that MHC class II-restricted killing can occur in vivo during viral infection. This killing was specific, because only cells expressing specific viral peptides were eliminated, and they were only eliminated in LCMV-infected mice. In addition to peptide specificity, killing was restricted to MHC class II high cells that expressed the B cell markers B220 and CD19. Mice depleted of CD4 T cells prior to adoptive transfer did not eliminate virus-specific targets, suggesting that CD4 T cells are required for this killing. I found that CD4 T cell-dependent cytotoxicity cannot be solely explained by one mechanism, but Fas-FasL interactions and perforin are mechanisms used to induce lysis.

Polyclonal B cell activation, hypothesized to be the cause of virus-induced hypergammaglobulinemia, has never been formally described in vivo. Based on previous studies of virus-induced hypergammaglobulinemia, which showed that CD4 T cells were required and that hypergammaglobulinemia was more likely to occur when virus grows to high titer in vivo, it was proposed that the B cells responsible for hypergammaglobulinemia may be expressing viral antigens to virus-specific CD4 T cells in vivo. CD4 T cells would then activate the B cells. However, because the antibodies produced during hypergammaglobulinemia are predominantly not virus-specific, nonvirus-specific B cells must be presenting viral antigens in vivo.

In my studies, the adoptively transferred B cells that survived the MHC class II-restricted cytotoxicity became polyclonally activated in LCMV-infected mice. Most of the surviving naïve B cells presenting class II MHC peptides underwent an extensive differentiation process involving both proliferation and secretion of antibodies. Both events required CD4 cells and CD40/CD40L interactions to occur but B cell division did not require MyD88-dependent signaling, type I interferon signaling, or interferon γ signaling within B cells. No division or activation of B cells was detected at all in virus-infected hosts in the absence of cognate CD4 T cells and class II antigen. B cells taken from immunologically tolerant donor LCMV carrier mice with high LCMV antigen load became activated following adoptive transfer into LCMV-infected hosts, suggesting that B cells can present sufficient antigen for this process during a viral infection. A transgenic population of B cells presenting viral antigens was also stimulated to undergo polyclonal activation in LCMV-infected mice. Due to the high proportion of B cells stimulated by virus infection and the fact that transgenic B cells can be activated in this manner, I conclude that virus-induced polyclonal B cell activation is independent of B cell receptor specificity. This approach, therefore, formally demonstrates and quantifies a virus-induced polyclonal proliferation and differentiation of B cells which can occur in a B cell receptor-independent manner.

By examining the fate of antigen-presenting B cells following adoptive transfer into LCMV-infected mice, I have been able to observe dynamic interactions between virus-specific CD4 T cells and B cells during viral infection. Adoptive transfer of antigen-presenting B cells results in CD4 T cell-mediated killing and polyclonal activation of B cells during LCMV infection. Studies showing requirements for CD4 T cells or MHC class II to control viral infections must now take MHC class II-restricted cytotoxicity into account. Polyclonal B cell activation after viral infection has the potential to enhance the maintenance of B cell memory or lead to the onset of autoimmune disease.



Rights and Permissions

Copyright is held by the author, with all rights reserved.