BMP-7 induces apoptosis in human germinal center B cells and is influenced by TGF-β receptor type I ALK5

PLoS One. 2017 May 10;12(5):e0177188. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177188. eCollection 2017.


Selection and maturation of B cells into plasma cells producing high-affinity antibodies occur in germinal centers (GC). GCs form transiently in secondary lymphoid organs upon antigen challenge, and the GC reaction is a highly regulated process. TGF-β is a potent negative regulator, but the influence of other family members including bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) is less known. Studies of human peripheral blood B lymphocytes showed that BMP-6 suppressed plasmablast differentiation, whereas BMP-7 induced apoptosis. Here, we show that human naïve and GC B cells had a strikingly different receptor expression pattern. GC B cells expressed high levels of BMP type I receptor but low levels of type II receptors, whereas naïve B cells had the opposite pattern. Furthermore, GC B cells had elevated levels of downstream signaling components SMAD1 and SMAD5, but reduced levels of the inhibitory SMAD7. Functional assays of GC B cells revealed that BMP-7 suppressed the viability-promoting effect of CD40L and IL-21, but had no effect on CD40L- and IL-21-induced differentiation into plasmablasts. BMP-7-induced apoptosis was counteracted by a selective TGF-β type I receptor (ALK4/5/7) inhibitor, but not by a selective BMP receptor type I inhibitor. Furthermore, overexpression of truncated ALK5 in a B-cell line counteracted BMP-7-induced apoptosis, whereas overexpression of truncated ALK4 had no effect. BMP-7 mRNA and protein was readily detected in tonsillar B cells, indicating a physiological relevance of the study. Altogether, we identified BMP-7 as a negative regulator of GC B-cell survival. The effect was counteracted by truncated ALK5, suggesting greater complexity in regulating BMP-7 signaling than previously believed.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 7 / genetics
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 7 / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Germinal Center / cytology*
  • Germinal Center / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Palatine Tonsil / cytology
  • Palatine Tonsil / metabolism
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type I
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Smad Proteins / genetics
  • Smad Proteins / metabolism


  • BMP7 protein, human
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 7
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Smad Proteins
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type I
  • TGFBR1 protein, human

Grant support

The authors have no financial disclosures.