The generation of Ig-secreting cells (ISCs) from memory B cells requires interactions between antigen-specific (Ag-specific) B cells, T cells, and dendritic cells. This process must be strictly regulated to ensure sufficient humoral immunity while avoiding production of pathogenic autoantibodies. BAFF, a member of the TNF family, is a key regulator of B cell homeostasis. BAFF exerts its effect by binding to three receptors — transmembrane activator of and CAML interactor (TACI), B cell maturation antigen (BCMA), and BAFF receptor (BAFF-R). To elucidate the contribution of BAFF to the differentiation of B cells into ISCs, we tracked the fate of human memory B cells stimulated with BAFF or CD40L. BAFF and CD40L significantly increased the overall number of surviving B cells. This was achieved via distinct mechanisms. CD40L induced proliferation of nondifferentiated blasts, while BAFF prevented apoptosis of ISCs without enhancing proliferation. The altered responsiveness of activated memory B cells to CD40L and BAFF correlated with changes in surface phenotype such that expression of CD40 and BAFF-R were reduced on ISCs while BCMA was induced. These results suggest BAFF may enhance humoral immunity in vivo by promoting survival of ISCs via a BCMA-dependent mechanism. These findings have wide-ranging implications for the treatment of human immunodeficiencies as well as autoimmune diseases.
Danielle T. Avery, Susan L. Kalled, Julia I. Ellyard, Christine Ambrose, Sarah A. Bixler, Marilyn Thien, Robert Brink, Fabienne Mackay, Philip D. Hodgkin, Stuart G. Tangye