Borrelia burgdorferi antigen can elicit immunoglobulins (Igs) characteristic of the primary and secondary immune responses without the contribution of an interleukin-4-producing helper T-cell population. Single exposure of mice to soluble B. burgdorferi antigen elicited both Th1-type and Th2-type antispirochete antibodies. Production of the Ig classes showed different patterns with increasing time postinjection (IgM levels decreased; IgG1, IgG2a, IgG2b, and IgG3 levels increased; IgE was not detected), and Ig patterns were similar to those produced in infected mice. Upon infectious challenge, immunized mice achieved maximal titers of all antispirochete IgG subclasses more quickly than unimmunized mice did. In contrast to the antibody responses which showed both Th1- and Th2-type patterns, T-cell immune response to either immunization or infection was characterized by interleukin-2 and gamma interferon production; interleukin-4 and interleukin-5 were undetectable. Injection with whole spirochetes induced a pattern of antibodies and cytokine production similar to those obtained by injection with soluble antigen. In addition, mouse strains of different major histocompatibility complex backgrounds produced similar patterns of Ig in response to immunization. None of the various parameters of immunization tested resulted in detectable interleukin-4 production by primary or secondary immune T cells. The production of both IgM and IgG1 at early times following a single exposure to spirochete antigen clearly differs from immune responses to haptens or model protein antigens. Production of similar Ig classes in infected and immune mice implies that antigen-specific antibody is responsible for passive immunizing activity found in immune sera
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