Background: gamma delta T cells, like alpha beta T cells, are components of all well-studied vertebrate immune systems. Yet, the contribution of gamma delta T cells to immune responses is poorly characterized. In particular, it has not been resolved whether gamma delta cells, independent of any other T cells, can help B cells produce immunoglobulin and form germinal centers, anatomical foci of specialized T cell-B cell collaboration.
Results: TCR beta-/- mice, which lack all T cells except gamma delta T cells, routinely displayed higher levels of antibody than fully T cell-deficient mice. Repeated parasitic infection of TCR beta-/- mice, but not of T cell-deficient mice, increased antibody levels and induced germinal centers that contained B cells and monoclonal gamma delta cells in close juxtaposition. However, antibody specificities were more commonly against self than against the challenging pathogen. gamma delta T cell-B cell help was not induced by repeated inoculation of TCR beta-/- mice with mycobacterial antigens.
Conclusions: In the absence of any other T cells, gamma delta T cell-B cell collaboration can be significantly enhanced by repeated infection. However, the lack of obvious enrichment for antibodies against the challenging pathogen distinguishes gamma delta T cell help from alpha beta T cell help induced under analogous circumstances. The increased production of generalized antibodies may be particularly relevant to the development of autoimmunity, which commonly occurs in patients suffering from alpha beta T cell deficiencies, such as AIDS.