Flagellin (mol.wt. 40,000) from S. adelaide organisms and a series of acetoacetyl derivatives of flagellin were tested for their ability to induce humoral and cell-mediated immunity in adult rats. It was found that unmodified flagellin was an excellent inducer of antibody formation but a poor inducer of delayed-type hypersensitivity. In contrast, increasing acetoacetylation steadily destroyed the ability of flagellin to initiate antibody formation but enhanced the capacity of the molecule to induce flagellin-specific cell-mediated immunity and antibody tolerance. In fact, it appeared that in adult rats antibody formation and cell-mediated immunity may well be opposing immunological processes. Furthermore, the affinity of the acetoacetyl flagellins for anti-flagellin antibodies appeared to determine the type of immune response which predominated. High affinity antigen produced antibody formation whereas low affinity antigen induced cell-mediated immunity and antibody tolerance. The importance of affinity was further evidenced by the fact that a CNBr digest of flagellin induced humoral and cellular immune responses identical to an acetoacetylated flagellin of comparable antigenic activity. From these studies it was proposed that both humoral and cell-mediated immunity can be directed against the same antigenic determinants but that the specificity requirements for delayed hypersensitivity (and antibody tolerance) are less than those required for antibody formation.
Some remarkable immunological features of the flagellin system were revealed. Flagellin induced comparable delayed-type hypersensitivity when injected in either saline or FCA. Furthermore, FCA only slightly enhanced the delayed responses induced by the acetoacetyl flagellins and in fact these preparations produced antibody tolerance whether injected in saline or adjuvant.
Finally, in contrast to the adult tolerance induced by the acetoacetylated flagellins, which existed only at the antibody level, tolerance in neonatal rats existed at the level of both humoral and cell-mediated immunity. This finding is the first indication of a fundamental difference between neonatal and adult tolerance.
The significance of these findings is discussed in the light of current immunological concepts and a hypothesis proposed to explain these phenomena.