In vivo imaging of germinal centres reveals a dynamic open structure

Nature. 2007 Mar 1;446(7131):83-7. doi: 10.1038/nature05573. Epub 2007 Jan 31.


Germinal centres are specialized structures wherein B lymphocytes undergo clonal expansion, class switch recombination, antibody gene diversification and affinity maturation. Three to four antigen-specific B cells colonize a follicle to establish a germinal centre and become rapidly dividing germinal-centre centroblasts that give rise to dark zones. Centroblasts produce non-proliferating centrocytes that are thought to migrate to the light zone of the germinal centre, which is rich in antigen-trapping follicular dendritic cells and CD4+ T cells. It has been proposed that centrocytes are selected in the light zone on the basis of their ability to bind cognate antigen. However, there have been no studies of germinal-centre dynamics or the migratory behaviour of germinal-centre cells in vivo. Here we report the direct visualization of B cells in lymph node germinal centres by two-photon laser-scanning microscopy in mice. Nearly all antigen-specific B cells participating in a germinal-centre reaction were motile and physically restricted to the germinal centre but migrated bi-directionally between dark and light zones. Notably, follicular B cells were frequent visitors to the germinal-centre compartment, suggesting that all B cells scan antigen trapped in germinal centres. Consistent with this observation, we found that high-affinity antigen-specific B cells can be recruited to an ongoing germinal-centre reaction. We conclude that the open structure of germinal centres enhances competition and ensures that rare high-affinity B cells can participate in antibody responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Movement*
  • Germinal Center / cytology*
  • Germinal Center / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL