• Germinal center compartments;
  • Follicular dendritic cells


Five zones in the secondary follicles of human tonsils are described, which are distinguished by the phenotype of their constituent cells. Moving from the apex to the base of the follicle the zones are termed: follicular mantle, outer zone, apical light zone, basal light zone and dark zone. The dark zone contains proliferating, CD77high, centroblasts and thin, widely spaced processes of follicular dendritic cells (FDC). The apical and basal light zones on the other hand contain a dense network of FDC which express CD21 and CD54 strongly. The FDC of the apical light zone differ from those of the basal light zone by their high expression of CD23. Centroblasts of the dark zone give rise to non-proliferating centrocytes which move apically through the light zone (Eur. J. Immunol. 1991. 21: 2951). The centrocytes of the basal light zone are more pyroninophilic, more closely-packed and larger than those in the apical light zone. Consequently, by conventional histology the basal light zone appears to be part of the dark zone. The nomenclature adopted, however, adheres to the convention that the dark zone is filled with proliferating centroblasts. Cells undergoing apopotosis were identified both in the dark and light zones, but more than half of these cells were located in the basal light zone. This is consistent with the concept that the progeny of cells which undergo somatic mutation in their immunoglobulin variable region genes in the dark zone migrate to the light zone where they are selected on the basis of their capacity to bind to antigen held on FDC. Cells receiving an antigen-dependent signal survive while those that do not kill themselves by apoptosis. The outer zone does not contain CD23high cells and in this way is distinguished from the adjacent follicular mantle and apical light zone. It contains small lymphoid cells, blasts and plasmacytoid cells. Many cells of the outer zone express CDw75 strongly. The outer zone also extends as a narrow band around the dark zone. Possible roles of FDC and T cells of the light zone and outer zone in inducing centrocytes to differentiate to memory cells or plasmablasts are discussed.