Switched memory B cells maintain specific memory independently of serum antibodies: The hepatitis B example



The immunogenicity of a vaccine is conventionally measured through the level of serum Abs early after immunization, but to ensure protection specific Abs should be maintained long after primary vaccination. For hepatitis B, protective levels often decline over time, but breakthrough infections do not seem to occur. The aim of this study was to demonstrate whether, after hepatitis B vaccination, B-cell memory persists even when serum Abs decline. We compared the frequency of anti-hepatitis-specific memory B cells that remain in the blood of 99 children five years after priming with Infanrix®-hexa (GlaxoSmithKline) (n=34) or with Hexavac® (Sanofi Pasteur MSD) (n=65). These two vaccines differ in their ability to generate protective levels of IgG. Children with serum Abs under the protective level, <10 mIU/mL, received a booster dose of hepatitis B vaccine, and memory B cells and serum Abs were measured 2 wk later. We found that specific memory B cells had a similar frequency in all children independently of primary vaccine. Booster injection resulted in the increase of memory B cell frequencies (from 11.3 in 106 cells to 28.2 in 106 cells, p<0.01) and serum Abs (geometric mean concentration, GMC from 2.9 to 284 mIU/mL), demonstrating that circulating memory B cells effectively respond to Ag challenge even when specific Abs fall under the protective threshold.