All mature B cells coexpress major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules, I-A and I-E, which are restriction elements required for antigen presentation to CD4+ T cells. However, the expression of class II during the early stages of B cell development has been unclear. We demonstrate here that there is a difference in the expression of class II during murine B cell development in the fetal liver and adult bone marrow (BM). These differences define two distinct B cell developmental pathways. The Fetal-type (FT) pathway is characterized by pre-B and immature IgM+ B cells generated in the fetal liver which initially lack all class II expression. In contrast, the Adult-type (AT) pathway is typified by B cells developing in the adult BM which express class II molecules from the pre-B cell stage. In vitro stromal cell cultures of sorted fetal liver and adult BM pro-B cells indicated that the difference in I-A expression during B cell development is intrinsic to the progenitors. In addition, we show that FT B cell development is not restricted to the fetal liver but occurs in the peritoneal cavities, spleens, liver, and BM of young mice up to at least 1 mo of age. The AT B cell development begins to emerge after birth but is, however, restricted to the BM environment. These findings indicate that there are two distinct B cell developmental pathways during ontogeny, each of which could contribute differentially to the immune repertoire and thus the functions of B cell subsets and lineages.

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