Germinal Center

Federico Caligaris-Cappio, Cattedra di Immunologia Clinica, Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche e Oncologia Umana, Université di Torino, Turin, Italy

In secondary lymphoid organs mature B lymphocytes tend to aggregate in nodular structures, the lymphoid follicles, that are located in well-defined areas such as the outer cortex of lymph nodes, the marginal zone of the spleen and the Peyer's patches, and play a central role in the secondary immune response to T cell-dependent antigens (Ags). Two different types of follicles exist. Primary follicles are spherical collections of small resting B lymphocytes that cluster around specialized Ag-presenting cells (follicular dendritic cells, FDCs) and are found in germ-free animals as well as in human fetal lymph nodes from the 16th gestational week onward. After Ag challenge, i.e. soon after birth, primary follicles evolve into secondary follicles through the progressive generation of a mitotically hyperactive population of B cells which form an area called the germinal center (GC) that is surrounded by a mantle or corona of small resting B lymphocytes. The GC provides the unique microenvironment of cells, adhesion structures and cytokines that ensure the proper balance between activation/proliferation and apoptotic death of newly generated Ag-specific B lymphocytes and lead to an antibody (Ab) response of optimal affinity.

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