As B cells differentiate under the influence of antigen and T cells, they frequently switch from the expression of IgM antibody to the expression of other isotypes. This is accomplished by rearranging the expressed variable region gene to downstream constant region genes and deleting the intervening sequences. Some B-cell lines that represent early stages in development switch constitutively in culture at frequencies that approach those of lipopolysaccharide- or lymphokine-stimulated normal B cells. Hybridoma cells represent a later stage of development and rarely switch in culture. In contrast to early B-cell lines, hybridomas produce large amounts of immunoglobulin, and single cells can be assayed easily for the expression of new isotypes. We have used the ELISA spot assay and fluctuation analysis to determine the rate of switching of two hybridoma cell lines. By identifying subclones that switched more frequently, we have progressively enriched for cells that switch spontaneously at higher rates. These cells, like normal cells, switch by rearrangement and deletion, and the frequency of switched cells in some of the clones is comparable to that which has been observed in less differentiated B-cell lines and in normal B cells
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