Polyclonal B cell activation is a hallmark of autoimmune disease in NZB and (NZB x NZW)F(1) (NZB/W) mice. However, the mechanism by which this activated cell subset facilitates disease development is unknown. We recently showed that resting B cells from these mice demonstrate enhanced expression of costimulatory molecules in response to CD40 crosslinking (Jongstra-Bilen et al., J. Immunol. 159,5810-5820, 1997). This led us to question whether activated B cells expressed costimulatory molecules in vivo. Using flow cytometry we found that NZB and NZB/W mice have an increased proportion of splenic B cells expressing B7.1 and elevated levels of B7.2 and ICAM-1. These B cells isolate within the low-density activated population and possess the phenotypic characteristics of marginal zone B cells. The levels of B7.1 on the activated B cell population are similar to those induced by CD40 stimulation raising the possibility that activated B cells in NZB and NZB/W mice provide costimulatory signals to self-reactive T cells leading to loss of tolerance.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.