Gut-associated lymphoid tissues (GALTs) interact with intestinal microflora to drive GALT development and diversify the primary antibody repertoire; however, the molecular mechanisms that link these events remain elusive. Alicia rabbits provide an excellent model to investigate the relationship between GALT, intestinal microflora, and modulation of the antibody repertoire. Most B cells in neonatal Alicia rabbits express VHn allotype immunoglobulin (Ig)M. Within weeks, the number of VHn B cells decreases, whereas V Ha allotype B cells increase in number and become predominant. We hypothesized that the repertoire shift from VHn to VHa B cells results from interactions between GALT and intestinal microflora. To test this hypothesis, we surgically removed organized GALT from newborn Alicia pups and ligated the appendix to sequester it from intestinal microflora. Flow cytometry and nucleotide sequence analyses revealed that the VHn to VHa repertoire shift did not occur, demonstrating the requirement for interactions between GALT and intestinal microflora in the selective expansion of VHa B cells. By comparing amino acid sequences of VHn and VHa Ig, we identified a putative VH ligand binding site for a bacterial or endogenous B cell superantigen. We propose that interaction of such a superantigen with VHa B cells results in their selective expansion.
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