Human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) were cultured for various time periods (up to 8 d) in the presence of pokeweed mitogen (PWM), lipopolysaccharide, or Epstein-Barr virus. Cell-free supernates were fractionated on a standardized ultrogel AcA 22 column and the proportion of polymeric and monomeric IgA was determined by radioimmunoassay. The results demonstrate that PBL stimulated with these mitogens produce IgM and IgG with molecular characteristics identical to those found in serum, but that the IgA produced is predominantly of the polymeric type. To prove that this IgA represented disulfide bond-linked polymers rather than aggregated monomers, we have demonstrated that the high molecular weight IgA (a) maintains its polymeric form upon treatment with acidic buffers, (b) contains J chain, a glycoprotein associated only with polymeric immunoglobulins, and (c) dissociates to the monomeric form upon reduction of disulfide bonds. After 1 wk in culture, approximately 60% of the PWM-stimulated cells that contained IgA were positive for IgA2, whereas 40% were IgA1 positive as determined by immunofluorescence. Therefore, peripheral blood contains a population of lymphocytes with the potential to display, after appropriate stimulation and differentiation, characteristics similar to IgA cells found in external secretory tissues. The demonstration of the presence of such cells in the peripheral circulation suggests that these cells are precursors of IgA-producing plasma cells with the potential to populate mucosal tissues.

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