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Abstract

Mononuclear cells (MNC) obtained from adult rib specimen were investigated for their capacity to produce immunoglobulin (Ig) in vitro. Using limiting dilution analysis 3 populations of B lineage cells could be distinguished. The first produces Ig in culture without any intentional activation. These cells are strictly nonproliferating and sustain extraordinary secretory rates of 5 × 107-10 × 107 molecules IgG, IgA or IgM/cell/h for at least 2 weaks. They occur at frequencies of 1 × 10-4-10 × 10−4 (marrow MNC) or represent 1–5% of marrow B cells. Following exposure to infectious Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), these cells do not (a) proliferate, (b) express EBV-determined nuclear antigens (EBNA), (c) enhance their secretory rates or (d) show secretory activity for prolonged time. These cells are therefore EBV resistant. If these cells produced their antibody at similar rates in vivo, then their frequencies would suggest that they could provide up to 2/3 of daily synthetic rates for IgG and IgA and 20–30% of the daily IgM production. The second population of marrow B cells is exclusively committed to IgM production. Following exposure to EBV these cells proliferate, express EBNA and begin to secrete IgM. The third population represents 90% of marrow B cells. In our hands, these cells are unable to produce Ig in vitro.