The role of B lymphocytes as antigen-presenting cells
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B lymphocytes are regarded as professional antigen-presenting cells (APCs) despite their primary role in humoral immunity. Over the last two decades, studies designed to define the role of the B cells as APCs have generated discrepant results, showing that B cells are either unnecessary or required for T cell priming and either immunogenic or tolerogenic to T cells. The reasons for these discrepancies are not clear. Here we review mechanisms regulating B cell antigen presentation and the data derived from the major studies conducted by different groups representing each school of thought. In general it is clear that B cells process and present specific and nonspecific antigens differently. The presentation of specific antigen through the B cell antigen receptor occurs with very high efficiency and is associated with B cell activation, resulting in the activation of cognate T cells. In contrast, the presentation of nonspecific antigen by B cells is minimized and dissociated from B cell activation. As a result, B cells inactivate T cells that recognize nonspecific antigenic epitopes presented by B cells, or they induce regulatory T cell differentiation or expansion. These mechanisms serve to ensure effective production of high-affinity antigen-specific antibodies but minimize the production of nonspecific antibodies and autoantibodies.