Human IgG2- and IgG4-expressing memory B cells display enhanced molecular and phenotypic signs of maturity and accumulate with age

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Abstract

The mechanisms involved in sequential immunoglobulin G (IgG) class switching are still largely unknown. Sequential IG class switching is linked to higher levels of somatic hypermutation (SHM)in vivo, but it remains unclear if these are generated temporally during an immune response or upon activation in a secondary response. We here aimed to uncouple these processes and to distinguish memory B cells from primary and secondary immune responses. SHM levels and IgG subclasses were studied with 454 pyrosequencing on blood mononuclear cells from young children and adults as models for primary and secondary immunological memory. Additional sequencing and detailed immunophenotyping with IgG subclass-specific antibodies was performed on purified IgG+ memory B-cell subsets. In both children and adults, SHM levels were higher in transcripts involving more downstream-located IGHG genes (esp. IGHG2 and IGHG4). In adults, SHM levels were significantly higher than in children, and downstream IGHG genes were more frequently utilized. This was associated with increased frequencies of CD27+ IgG+ memory B cells, which contained higher levels of SHM, more IGHG2 usage, and higher expression levels of activation markers than CD27-IgG+ memory B cells. We conclude that secondary immunological memory accumulates with age and these memory B cells express CD27, high levels of activation markers, and carry high SHM levels and frequent usage of IGHG2. These new insights contribute to our understanding of sequential IgG subclass switching and show a potential relevance of using serum IgG2 levels or numbers of IgG2-expressing B cells as markers for efficient generation of memory responses.

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