The capacity of the trinitrophenyl (TNP) haptenic group, coupled to a series of chemically dissimilar carriers, to cross-stimulate putative T- dependent and T-independent murine B-cell subpepulations was determined by using an in vitro limiting dilution technique to generate primary IgM responses. It was found that TNP-Ficoll and TNP-dextran, two T- independent antigens with little or no polyclonal mitogenicity, stimulate the same population of anti-TNP precursors, which is distinct from the precursor population activated by TNP-bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a T-independent polyclonal mitogen, or TNP-horse erythrocytes (HRBC), a T-dependent antigen. On the other hand, TNP-LPS and TNP-HRBC activate the same precursor population, indicating that LPS can substitute for the T- cell signal in T-dependent B-cell responses, whereas nonmitogenic T- independent antigens cannot. However, the cumulative evidence from this and other laboratories strongly indicates that LPS and T-dependent antigens activate B cells by different mechanisms. Of particular interest, LPS is incapable of activating B cells responsive to weakly- or nonmitogenic T-independent antigens.
Based on clonal burst size, T-dependent antigens are capable of inducing greater antigen-specific B-cell proliferation than T-independent antigens. However, TNP conjugates of Ficoll and dextran, which are relatively poor inducers of polyclonal B-cell activation, induced larger anti-TNP clones than did TNP-LPS, a strong polyclonal mitogen.
The findings reinforce the evidence favoring existence of multiple B- cell subpopulations with distinctive activation pathways. They also strengthen the proposition that a given B-cell subset can be activated by more than one mechanism.