Immunological tolerance removes or inactivates self-reactive B cells, including those that also recognize cross-reactive foreign antigens. Whereas a few microbial pathogens exploit these "holes" in the B cell repertoire by mimicking host antigens to evade immune surveillance, the extent to which tolerance reduces the B cell repertoire to foreign antigens is unknown. Here, we use single-cell cultures to determine the repertoires of human B cell antigen receptors (BCRs) before (transitional B cells) and after (mature B cells) the second B cell tolerance checkpoint in both healthy donors and in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) . In healthy donors, the majority (~70%) of transitional B cells that recognize foreign antigens also bind human self-antigens (foreign+self), and peripheral tolerance halves the frequency of foreign+self-reactive mature B cells. In contrast, in SLE patients who are defective in the second tolerance checkpoint, frequencies of foreign+self-reactive B cells remain unchanged during maturation of transitional to mature B cells. Patterns of foreign+self-reactivity among mature B cells from healthy donors differ from those of SLE patients. We propose that immune tolerance significantly reduces the scope of the BCR repertoire to microbial pathogens and that cross-reactivity between foreign and self epitopes may be more common than previously appreciated.
Keywords: B cells; Immunology; Lupus; Tolerance.