Germinal centers output clonally diverse plasma cell populations expressing high- and low-affinity antibodies.
Sprumont A., Rodrigues A., McGowan SJ., Bannard C., Bannard O.
Germinal centers (GCs) form in lymph nodes after immunization or infection to facilitate antibody affinity maturation and memory and plasma cell (PC) development. PC differentiation is thought to involve stringent selection for GC B cells expressing the highest-affinity antigen receptors, but how this plays out during complex polyclonal responses is unclear. We combine temporal lineage tracing with antibody characterization to gain a snapshot of PCs developing during influenza infection. GCs co-mature B cell clones with antibody affinities spanning multiple orders of magnitude; however, each generates PCs with similar efficiencies, including weak binders. Within lineages, PC selection is not restricted to variants with the highest-affinity antibodies. Differentiation is commonly associated with proliferative expansion to produce "nodes" of identical PCs. Immunization-induced GCs generate fewer PCs but still of low- and high-antibody affinities. We propose that generating low-affinity antibody PCs reflects an evolutionary compromise to facilitate diverse serum antibody responses.