Broad volume distributions indicate nonsynchronized growth and suggest sudden collapses of germinal center B cell populations

J Immunol. 2010 Feb 1;184(3):1339-47. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0901040. Epub 2010 Jan 6.


Immunization with a T cell-dependent Ag leads to the formation of several hundred germinal centers (GCs) within secondary lymphoid organs, a key process in the maturation of the immune response. Although prevailing perceptions about affinity maturation intuitively assume simultaneous seeding, growth, and decay of GCs, our previous mathematical simulations led us to hypothesize that their growth might be nonsynchronized. To investigate this, we performed computer-aided three-dimensional reconstructions of splenic GCs to measure size distributions at consecutive time points following immunization of BALB/c mice with a conjugate of 2-phenyl-oxazolone and chicken serum albumin. Our analysis reveals a broad volume distribution of GCs, indicating that individual GCs certainly do not obey the average time course of the GC volumes and that their growth is nonsynchronized. To address the cause and implications of this behavior, we compared our empirical data with simulations of a stochastic mathematical model that allows for frequent and sudden collapses of GCs. Strikingly, this model succeeds in reproducing the empirical average kinetics of GC volumes as well as the underlying broad size distributions. Possible causes of GC B cell population collapses are discussed in the context of the affinity-maturation process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology*
  • B-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • Cell Adhesion / immunology
  • Cell Aggregation / immunology
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cytokinesis / immunology*
  • Germinal Center / cytology*
  • Germinal Center / immunology*
  • Haptens / administration & dosage
  • Haptens / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Oxazolone / administration & dosage
  • Oxazolone / analogs & derivatives
  • Oxazolone / immunology
  • Spleen / cytology
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Stochastic Processes


  • Haptens
  • 2-phenyloxazolone
  • Oxazolone