To evaluate the role of environmental selective processes, as opposed to variable region gene expression, in the determination of B cell repertoire expression, we have assessed the phosphorylcholine (PC)-specific repertoire of precursor cells that remain in bone marrow cell populations after the removal of surface immunoglobulin (sIg)-bearing cells. Such cells are assumed to represent a stage in B cell maturation before the expression of sIg, and thus at a time when they have not as yet interfaced with environmental influences that operate through sIg receptors such as antigenic stimulation, tolerance, or antiidiotypic regulation. The repertoire as expressed in these cells, therefore, should reflect the readout of immunoglobulin variable region genes as they are expressed in progenitors to B cells. The results of these studies indicate that, as in mature primary B cell pools of BALB/c mice, the majority of PC-responsive sIg- bone marrow cells are of the T15 clonotype. Thus, environmental selective mechanisms would not appear to be required for the high frequency of B cells of the T15 idiotype in the primary B cell repertoire of BALB/c mice. Analysis of the sIg- bone marrow cells in (CBA/N X BALB/c)F1 male mice demonstrated that the deficit of PC-responsive mature B cells, which is a characteristic of this murine strain, must occur after receptor expression, since a normal frequency of PC-responsive and T15-expressing cells is present in their sIg- bone marrow population. Finally, these same mice were used to obtain bone marrow cell preparations from individual leg bones, so as to permit an analysis of the occurrence of T15+ and T15- clonotypes within individual bone marrow populations. The findings from these studies indicate that T15+ B cells occur as a high frequency event within bone marrow generative cell pools. Furthermore, bone marrow populations that are positive for PC-responsive precursor cells often display multiple copies of such precursor cells that are exclusively either T15+ or T15-. This finding indicates that clonal expansion of cells within the B cell lineage apparently occurs before immunoglobulin receptor acquisition.

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