Changes in the VH-region repertoire of isolator piglets reared for 6 weeks under germ-free (GF) conditions and those colonized (COL) with a defined exclusion flora on the 1st day of life were compared. Although serum immunoglobulin levels were 20–100-fold higher in COL piglets than GF piglets, an analysis of peripheral blood B cells (PBBs) indicated that: GF and COL piglets used the same four VH genes and two DH segments during the 6-week period; proportional usage of VH genes and DH segments was the same as in fetal animals; and VH and DH usage did not differ between COL and GF animals. This pattern differed from the PBBs from 6-week-old conventional (CONV) piglets. When the sequences of 73 splenic CDR3 segments were analysed, DH usage and mutation frequency were the same in sequences from both 6-week-old GF and COL piglets; mutations were infrequent and occurred with the same frequency as in 110-day fetal spleen. However, the median CDR3 length in COL piglets was shifted upward due to 3′ DH N-nucleotide additions. Neither COL nor GF animals made specific serum antibodies to phosphoryl choline given parenterally on a T-cell dependent carrier. In contrast to the near absence of a colonization effect in PBBs and splenic DNA, rearranged variable heavy-chain gene segments (VDJs) recovered from the DNA of mucosal lymphoid tissues of COL piglets showed pronounced differences from those recovered from GF animals in usage of DHA-, DHB-and VHB- and in the frequency of point mutation. The mucosal VDJ transcripts and those from the spleen were similarly affected by colonization. This effect on mucosal lymphoid tissue was consistent with the five-fold selective increase in serum immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels relative to IgM and IgG. Comparison of IgM and IgA transcripts from mucosal tissues suggested that IgA and IgM clones diversify in parallel. Our findings are the first to show that colonization of the gastrointestinal tract of offspring separated from their mothers, differs from ‘conventionalized’ GF animals in that colonization preferentially influences diversification and expansion of the preimmune IgM and IgA repertoire in mucosal lymphoid tissues but not in PBBs and seldom/modestly in VDJs from splenic DNA
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