Background & aims: The mucosal immune system defends the body from pathogens to which the mucosal surfaces are continually exposed. Because lamina propria B cells should reflect the antigenic experience of the gut, we investigated their immunoglobulin (Ig) repertoire and distribution.
Methods: The junctional diversity of the IgA and IgM heavy-chain transcripts in the colon and the peripheral blood of healthy adults was analyzed by CDR3 size spectratyping and nucleotide sequencing.
Results: The V(H)6 and V(H)7 repertoires of intestinal IgA and IgM cells were oligoclonal, whereas the CDR3 profiles of the larger V(H)1-V(H)5 families suggested a more diverse repertoire with dominant bands superimposed on a polyclonal background. However, sequence analysis revealed multiple repetitive and clonally related transcripts at distant colonic sites from all V(H) families. This suggests that, in addition to a polyclonal B-cell pool, subsets of B cells are clonally expanded and widely distributed along the colon. Occasionally, there was evidence for B cells with the same CDR3 specificity, which exhibited an isotype switch from IgM to IgA. Circulating IgA B cells expressed a restricted V(H) repertoire that was distinct from that in the colon.
Conclusions: The human colon contains widely disseminated B cells that express clonally related IgA or IgM receptors. These results are best explained by an antigen-driven process whereby intestinal memory B cells continuously recirculate.