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Natural antibodies and the host immune responses to xenografts



Abstract: Natural antibodies are present in the serum of individuals in the absence of known antigenic stimulation. These antibodies are primarily IgM, polyreactive, and encoded by immunoglobulin V genes in germline configuration. Natural antibodies are produced by B-1 lymphocytes, cells that form the primary cell of the fetal and newborn B cell repertoire and may represent the basic foundation upon which the adult repertoire of B cell antibodies is based. Natural antibodies react with a variety of endogenous and exogenous antigens, including xenoantigens expressed by tissues between unrelated species. These antibodies are capable of causing the immediate rejection of grafts exchanged across species barriers. One of the central issues related to our understanding of the immunopathologic mechanisms responsible for rejection of xenografts is whether pre-formed natural antibodies and new antibodies induced following xenotransplantation are produced by the same pathways of B cell antibody production. We have established in studies conducted in rodents and humans that the initial phases of antibody production xenogeneic tissues involves the use of a restricted population of Ig germline genes to encode xenoantibody binding. As the humoral xenoantibody response matures, the same closely-related groups of Ig V genes are used to encode antibody binding and there is evidence for an isotype switch to IgG antibody production and the appearance of somatic mutations consistent with antigen-driven affinity maturation. Our findings in both rodent and human studies form the basis for our proposal that the xenograft response reflects the use of B cell natural antibody repertoires originally intended to provide protection against infection. The host humoral response is inadvertently recruited to mount antibody responses against foreign grafts because they display carbohydrate antigens that are shared by common environmental microbes. This model of xenoantibody responses is being tested in our laboratory through the analysis of the binding of xenoantibodies in their original non-mutated configuration, and the examination of the effect of specific point mutations and gene shuffling have on xenoantibody binding activity. Establishment of the relationships between Ig structural changes and subsequent changes in binding affinity should provide important insights into the role that natural antibodies and the cells that produce them play in the evolution of the host’s humoral responses to xenografts.

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