Stimulation of immunoglobulin biosynthesis in human B cells by wheat germ agglutinin. I. Evidence that WGA can produce both a positive and negative signal for activation of human lymphocytes

J Immunol. 1981 Aug;127(2):799-804.


Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), previously regarded strictly as a nonmitogenic or anti-mitogenic lectin, can under appropriate conditions markedly stimulate in vitro synthesis and secretion of immunoglobulin (Ig) by human B lymphocytes. Stimulation of Ig production by WGA is 1) confined to a narrow lectin dose range (2 to 10 micrograms/ml; 2) abrogated by the simple sugar N-acetyl-D-glucosamine but not by a variety of other monosaccharides; 3) effective only after early additions of WGA within the initial 72 hr of 12-day cultures; 4) detected in the presence of B and T cells but not B cells alone; and 5) polyisotypic in nature, as indicated by augmented synthetic rates of Ig in each of 3 major classes (IgG, IgA, and IgM). With few exceptions, WGA produces equivalent or greater rates of Ig production as obtained in cultures activated with pokeweed mitogen (PWM), a well-recognized T-dependent polyclonal activator of human B cells. Furthermore, periperal blood lymphocytes from select individuals that respond weakly to PWM are markedly stimulated with WGA. In contrast to these stimulatory effects of WGA on Ig production by lymphocytes exposed to low lectin concentrations, addition of WGA in amounts greater than 15 micrograms/ml to PWM-stimulated human lymphocyte cultures produces marked suppression of the expected level of Ig synthesis. These data indicate that varying doses of WGA can produce contrasting stimulatory and inhibitory effects on human B cell metabolism.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylglucosamine / pharmacology
  • Agglutinins
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins / biosynthesis*
  • Lectins / pharmacology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Monocytes / immunology
  • Pokeweed Mitogens / pharmacology
  • Staphylococcus Phages / immunology
  • Streptolysins / pharmacology
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins


  • Agglutinins
  • Immunoglobulins
  • Lectins
  • Pokeweed Mitogens
  • Streptolysins
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins
  • Acetylglucosamine