B cells and the antibodies they produce have a deeply penetrating influence on human physiology. Here, we review current understanding of how B cell responses are initiated; the different paths to generate short- and long-lived plasma cells, germinal center cells, and memory cells; and how each path impacts antibody diversity, selectivity, and affinity. We discuss how basic research is informing efforts to generate vaccines that induce broadly neutralizing antibodies against viral pathogens, revealing the special features associated with allergen-reactive IgE responses and uncovering the antibody-independent mechanisms by which B cells contribute to health and disease.
Keywords: B lymphocyte; BCR; T-cell help; allergy; antibody; germinal center; isotype switching; lymph node; plasma cell; vaccine.
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