Understanding memory B cell selection

J Theor Biol. 2021 Dec 21;531:110905. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2021.110905. Epub 2021 Sep 17.


The mammalian adaptive immune system has evolved over millions of years to become an incredibly effective defense against foreign antigens. The adaptive immune system's humoral response creates plasma B cells and memory B cells, each with their own immunological objectives. The affinity maturation process is widely viewed as a heuristic to solve the global optimization problem of finding B cells with high affinity to the antigen. However, memory B cells appear to be purposely selected earlier in the affinity maturation process and have lower affinity. We propose that this memory B cell selection process may be an approximate solution to two optimization problems: optimizing for affinity to similar antigens in the future despite mutations or other minor differences, and optimizing to warm start the generation of plasma B cells in the future. We use simulations to provide evidence for our hypotheses, taking into account data showing that certain B cell mutations are more likely than others. Our findings are consistent with memory B cells having high-affinity to mutated antigens, but do not provide strong evidence that memory B cells will be more useful than selected naive B cells for seeding the secondary germinal centers.

Keywords: Adversarial mutation; Germinal center; Memory B cell; Plasma B cell; Warm start.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Animals
  • Antigens
  • B-Lymphocytes
  • Germinal Center*
  • Immunologic Memory*


  • Antigens