Lineage tracing of human B cells reveals the in vivo landscape of human antibody class switching

Elife. 2016 Aug 2;5:e16578. doi: 10.7554/eLife.16578.


Antibody class switching is a feature of the adaptive immune system which enables diversification of the effector properties of antibodies. Even though class switching is essential for mounting a protective response to pathogens, the in vivo patterns and lineage characteristics of antibody class switching have remained uncharacterized in living humans. Here we comprehensively measured the landscape of antibody class switching in human adult twins using antibody repertoire sequencing. The map identifies how antibodies of every class are created and delineates a two-tiered hierarchy of class switch pathways. Using somatic hypermutations as a molecular clock, we discovered that closely related B cells often switch to the same class, but lose coherence as somatic mutations accumulate. Such correlations between closely related cells exist when purified B cells class switch in vitro, suggesting that class switch recombination is directed toward specific isotypes by a cell-autonomous imprinted state.

Keywords: antibody; cell decisions; class switching; computational biology; human; immunology; repertoire; systems biology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Class Switching*
  • Immunoglobulin Isotypes / genetics*
  • Immunologic Factors / genetics*
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Somatic Hypermutation, Immunoglobulin


  • Immunoglobulin Isotypes
  • Immunologic Factors