In vertebrates, serum antibodies are an essential component of innate and adaptive immunity and immunological memory. They also can contribute significantly to immunopathology. Their composition is the result of tightly regulated differentiation of B lymphocytes into antibody-secreting plasma blasts and plasma cells. The survival of antibody-secreting cells determines their contribution to the immune response in which they were generated and to long-lasting immunity, as provided by stable serum antibody levels. Short-lived plasma blasts and/or plasma cells secrete antibodies for a reactive immune response. Short-lived plasma blasts can become long-lived plasma cells, probably by competition with preexisting plasma cells for occupation of a limited number of survival niches in the body, in a process not yet fully understood. Limitation of the number of long-lived plasma cells allows the immune system to maintain a stable humoral immunological memory over long periods, to react to new pathogenic challenges, and to adapt the humoral memory in response to these antigens.