B-Cells and T-Cells

These specialized cells are a critical part of the bodies humoral immune system. They recognize foreign antigens or invaders and mount a quick response. B-cells act quickly by developing antibodies to the antigen epitopes. T-cells react based on what serological class they are in. If it is a CD8 T-cell, its cytotoxic and can quickly fight and phagocytize the antigen, if it is a CD4 T-cell, it works in conjunction with B-cells and other T-cell subclasses to defend the host. This article will dive into B-cells, and every subclass of T-cells and how they work together to form the humoral branch of the immune system.


B-cells also known as B lymphocytes are a type of lymphocyte that functions as part of the humoral component of the adaptive immune system. It’s role is to secrete antibodies, but it also functions as an antigen-presenting cell (APC) that secretes cytokines. It possesses a B-cell receptor (BCR) on its surface that allows it to bind to a specific target antigen and initiate an immune response. B-cells develop from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) that originate within the bone marrow. They then develop into multipotent progenitor cells (MPP), which further differentiates into the common lymphoid progenitor (CLP). Development further progresses through several stages through various gene expression patterns and arrangements. Before maturation occurs, positive selection takes place to make sure that the pre-BCR and BCR can recognize and bind to specific ligands through antigen-independent signaling. If the cells are unable to bind, these B-cells cease to develop. Negative selection occurs through binding of self-antigen with the BCR. If the BCR is able to bind self-antigen it undergoes four fates; clonal deletion, receptor editing, anergy, or ignorance. Clonal deletion is the destruction of the B-cell through programmed cell death, in other words known as apoptosis. This is only for those B-cells that have expressed receptors for self-antigens. Receptor editing is exactly what the name suggests; editing of the BCR during the maturation process in an attempt to change the specificity the receptor to not recognize self-antigens. Anergy is used to describe lack of reaction by the bodies immune system. Its a way of saying that the B-cells that express BCRs for self-antigen will simply not be used. The last fate; ignorance means that the B-cell ignores the signal and continues through natural development. When negative selection is complete, the B-cells are now in a state of central tolerance. These mature B-cells do not bind with self antigens. From the bone marrow, B-cells migrate to the spleen as transitional B-cells. Within the spleen they become Follicular B-cells or Marginal zone B-cells depending on the signal received through the BCR. Once completely differentiated, they are now called naive B-cells.

B cell

B-Cell Activation

Activation usually occurs within the secondary lymphoid organs, such as the spleen and the lymph nodes. This is where naive B-cells are positioned once mature. When these naive immunocompetent B-cells encounter an antigen through its BCR, the antigen is internalized by receptor-mediated endocytosis, digested, and positioned on MHC II molecules on the B-cell surface. This allows the B-cell to act as an antigen-presenting cell to T-cells. T-cell dependent activation requires a T-cell helper, most commonly a follicular T-helper cell, to bind to the antigen-complexed MHC II molecule on the B-cell surface through its T-cell receptor (TCR) which drives T-cell activation. These T-cells express the surface protein CD40L and secrete cytokines IL-4, and IL-21 which bind to CD40 on the B-cell surface and act as co-stimulatory factors for B-cell activation. The co-stimulatory factors promote proliferation, immunoglobulin class switching, and somatic hypermutation. Activated T-cells then provide a secondary wave of activation that cause the B-cells to proliferate and form germinal centers. During the production of these germinal centers, activated B-cells may differentiate into plasma blasts, which can produce weak IgM antibodies. Within the germinal centers, B-cells differentiate into high affinity memory B-cells or long-lived plasma cells. The primary function of plasma cells is the secretion of clone-specific antibodies. There are very few antigens that can directly provide T-cell independent B-cell activation. Some components of bacterial cell walls (lipopolysaccharide), and bacterial flagellin are some to name a few. One other mechanism through which B-cell activation is enhanced is through the activity of CD21, CD19, and CD81; all three are surface proteins that form a complex. When the BCR binds to an antigen that is tagged with the complement protein C3, CD21 binds to C3, and downstream signaling lowers the activation threshold of the cell.

Memory B-cell Activation

Activation begins through detection and binding of the target antigen. When the antigen binds, it is taken up by the B-cell through receptor-mediated endocytosis, degraded, and presented onto the MHC II molecule within the B-cell surface. The memory B-cell then acts as an antigen-presenting cell that presents the antigen:MHC II complex to T-cells. Most commonly memory follicular T-helper cells that bind through their TCR. The memory B-cell is then activated and differentiates into either plasmablasts and plasma cells or generate germinal centers.


A T-cell is another lymphocyte, which is a subset of white blood cells. They are called T-cells because they mature in the thymus from thymocytes. There are several subsets of T-cells, each with a specific role in the immune system. These T-cells, just like B-cells originate from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow. These lymphoid progenitor cells populate the thymus and expand by cell division to immature thymocytes. The earliest thymocytes do not express either CD4+ or CD8+ and are classified as double negative cells. Through progression they become double positive and then eventually differentiate into single positive cells, either becoming CD8+, or CD4+. Its interesting to note that there is a small population of double positive T-cells within the peripheral circulation, although their function is unknown. About 98% of thymocytes undergo apoptosis during the development process by failing either positive selection or negative selection. The 2% that survive leave the thymus and become mature immunocompetent T-cells. Lets review positive and negative selection again. Positive selection selects for T-cells that are capable of interacting with MHC molecules. During positive selection signals by double positive precursors express either MHC class I or II receptors. A thymocytes fate is determined during positive selection. Double positive CD4+/CD8+ cells that interact with MHC class II molecules eventually become CD4+ cells, and on the contrary thymocytes that interact well with MHC class I molecules mature into CD8+ cells. Negative selection removes thymocytes that are capable of strongly binding with self MHC peptides.


T-Helper Cells

T-helper cells do just what their name suggests, they help other cells in immunological processes. This is evident in the activation of B-cells talked about previously. These cells are also most well known as CD4+ T-cells because the highly express CD4 glycoprotein on their surfaces. These T-cells become activated when they are presented with peptide antigens or epitopes by MHC class II molecules, usually present on antigen-presenting cells. Once activated, these cells proliferate rapidly and secrete multiple cytokines. T-helper cells differentiate into several subtypes; TH1, TH2, TH3, TH17, TH9, and THF, each secreting different cytokines to facilitate different pathways of the immune response. This is an article for another time.


Cytotoxic T-Cells

These killer T-cells destroy virus-infected cells and tumor cells. These cells are known as CD8+ T-cells since they express the CD8 glycoprotein on their surface. These cells recognize targets by binding to antigen epitopes that are associated with MHC class I molecules. Cytotoxic T-cells are highly regulated by Regulatory T-cells through IL-10, adenosine, and other molecules. They can be inactivated to an anergic state, which prevents autoimmune diseases.

T-cell CD8

Memory T-Cells

These memory T-cells are long-lived and when presented with an antigen that is recognized they can quickly expand and differentiate into large numbers of effector T-cells. These memory T-cells can either be CD4+ or CD8+ T-cells. There are four subtypes of memory T-cells that will be discussed below.

Central memory T-cells express CD45RO, C-C chemokine receptor type 7 (CCR7) and L-selectin which are all surface protein markers. They have high expression of CD44, and is commonly found within the lymph nodes.

Effector memory T-cells express CD45RO, but lack expression of CCR7 and L-selectin. These T-cells also have high expression of CD44, but are not found in the lymph nodes. These T-cells are found in the peripheral circulation and tissues.

Tissue resident memory T-cells occupy tissues without recirculating. The one specific surface marker that is associated with these cells is integral aeB7.

Virtual memory T-cells differ from all other memory subsets in that they do not originate from a clonal expansion event. These cells reside at low frequencies.

Natural Killer T-cells (NK)

First off, it should be mentioned that these cells should not be confused with natural killer cells of the innate immune system. Unlike conventional T-cells that recognize antigen epitopes presented on MHC I/II molecules, NKT cells recognize glycolipid antigens presented by a molecule called CD1d. When these cells are activated, these cells perform functions from both T-helper cells and cytotoxic T-cells. These cells specialize in recognizing tumor cells and cells infected with herpes viruses.



Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA)

The first step in any ELISA assay is the immobilization of the antigen within the sample to the wall of the wells within a microtiter plate. These microtiter plates are usually 96-wells. This is by direct adsorption to the plates surface or by using a capture antibody. The capture antibody has to be specific to the  target antigen. After immobilization, another antibody is added called the detection antibody. This detection antibody binds to the adsorbed antigen which forms an antigen:antibody complex. This detection antibody is either directly conjugated to an enzyme, such as horseradish peroxidase (HRP), or provides an antibody-binding site for a secondary labeled antibody. There are four different types of ELISAs which will all be discussed below. ELISAs take advantage of an enzymatic label to produce a signal that can be quantified and correlated to the binding of an antibody to an antigen. The final assay signal is measured using spectophotometry.

Direct ELISA

In the direct ELISA, the detection antibody is conjugated with either alkaline phosphatase (AP) or horseradish peroxidase (HRP). These substrates produce a colorimetric output that is then measured. The advantages of a direct ELISA is that it is a short protocol which saves time and reagent, and money. There is no cross-reactivity from a secondary antibody that can cause interference. The disadvantages are that there is no signal amplification, so the primary antibody must be conjugated for it to work.


Indirect ELISA

In the indirect ELISA, antibodies can be conjugated to biotin, which is then followed by a streptavidin-conjugated enzyme step. This is becoming more common place within the clinical laboratory. Alternatively, the detection antibody is typically a human IgG antibody that binds to the antigen within the wells. This primary antibody has multiple antibody-binding sites on it. A secondary rabbit anti-human IgG antibody conjugated with an enzymatic substrate is added. This secondary antibody binds to the first antibody and gives off a colorimetric signal which can be quantified by spectrophotometry. There are advantages over the direct ELISA, mainly that there is signal amplification by using several antibodies, allowing for high flexibility. This also creates a longer protocol, and increases the chances for cross-reactivity, which can be deemed disadvantages.


Sandwich ELISA

The sandwich ELISA is less common, but is highly efficient in antigen detection. It quantifies antigens using multiple polyclonal or monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies recognize a single epitope, while a polyclonal antibody recognizes multiple antigen epitopes. The antigen that is to be measured must contain at least two antigenic epitopes capable of binding to an antibody for this reason. The first step is to coat the microtiter plate wells with the capture antibody within a carbonate/bicarbonate buffer (pH 9.6). Proceed to incubate the plate overnight at 4 degrees Celsius. Wash the plate twice using PBS. Incubate the plate again for at least 2 hours at room temperature. Wash the plate again using PBS. The next step is to add diluted unknown samples to each well. Its important to run unknown samples against those of a standard curve by running standards in duplicates or triplicates. Incubate for 90 minutes at 37 degrees Celsius. then remove the sample and wash with PBS again. Next, add diluted detection antibody to each well. Its important to make sure that the detection antibody recognizes a different epitope on the target antigen than the capture antibody. The prevents interference with antibody binding. To maximize specificity and efficiency, use a tested matched pair. Once the detection antibody has been added, incubate for 2 hours at room temperature. Wash once again with PBS. After washing, add conjugated secondary antibody to each well. Incubate once again at room temperature, then proceed to wash. Once again, horseradish peroxidase and alkaline phosphatase are used as enzymes conjugated to the secondary antibody. The substrates for HRP are called HRP chromogens. Cleavage of hydrogen peroxide is coupled to an oxidation reaction which changes color. Another common substrate used is ABTS. The end product is green.


The sandwich ELISA employs high specificity, even when using complex samples. Within the sandwich ELISA, both direct and indirect methods can be used. It can be challenging to find two different antibodies against the same target the recognize different epitopes.

Competitive ELISA

The competitive ELISA is exactly what its name suggests; it is a competitive binding process which is produced by the sample antigen, and an add-in known concentration of antigen. A primary unlabeled antibody is incubated with the unknown sample antigen. This creates antigen:antibody complexes, which are then conjugated to a microtiter plate which is pre-coated with the same antigen. Any free antibody binds to the same antigen on the well. Unbound antibody is removed by washing the microtiter plate. The more antigen within the unknown sample means that less antibody will be able to bind to the antigens within the wells, hence the assay gets its name. Its a competition. A secondary conjugated antibody that is specific for the primary antibody bound to the antigen on the pre-coated on the wells is added. When a substrate is added, the reaction elicits a chromogenic or fluorescent signal. The higher the sample antigen concentration, the weaker the eventual signal.





The Antibody

An antibody or immunoglobulin is a large Y-shaped protein produced primarily by plasma cells of the humoral immune system. They are used to recognize and neutralize any foreign antigens or pathogens. An antibody is identical to the B-cell receptor of the cell that secretes it except for a small portion of the C-terminus of the heavy-chain constant region. The difference is that a B-cell receptor C-terminus is a hydrophobic membrane-anchoring sequence and on an antibody, the C-terminus is a hydrophilic sequence that allows its secretion. The Y-portion of the consists of two arms that vary between the different antibody molecules, otherwise known as the V-region. The V-region is involved in antigen binding. The C-region is far less variable and is the part of the molecule that interacts with effector cells and other molecules. All antibodies are constructed in the same way paired from heavy and light polypeptide chains joined by disulfide bonds so that each heavy chain is linked to a light chain and the two heavy chains are linked together.

There are two types of light chains, lambda and kappa. A given immunoglobulin has one or the either, never both. In humans the ratio of kappa to lambda; the two types of light chains in immunoglobulins is 2:1. The class, and the effector function of an antibody is defined by the structure of its heavy chain. There are five main heavy-chain isotypes. The five major immunoglobulin classes are IgM, IgD, IgG, IgA, and IgE. IgG is the most abundant immunoglobulin and has several subclasses (1, 2, 3, and 4 in humans). The distinctive functional properties are conferred by the carboxyl -terminal part of the heavy chain, where it is not bonded with the heavy chain.

Each chain of the immunoglobulin consists of a protein domain. Each protein domain consists of a series of similar, but not identical sequences about 110 amino acids long . The light chain is made up of two domains, and the heavy chain consists of four. The variable or V-domain of the heavy and light chains together consist of the V-region of the antibody allowing it to bind specific antigens. The constant domains of the heavy and light chains together make up the C-region. The V-region or the Y of the molecule, where the antigen binding activity takes place is called the Fab fragments. Fab stands for fragment antigen binding. The other part of the molecule, the constant region (C-region) contains no antigen-binding activity, and is called the Fc fragment. Fc stands for Fragment crystallizable. This is the part of the molecule that interacts with effector molecules and cells.

The immunoglobulin molecule is flexible. There is a hinge region that links the Fc and Fab regions of the molecule, allowing independent movement of the two Fab arms.


To recap. An antibody molecule is made up of four polypeptide chains, comprising of two identical light chains and two identical heavy chains, which can be thought of as forming a flexible Y-shaped structure. Each of the four chains has a variable (V) region at its amino terminus, which contributes to the antigen-binding site, and a constant (C) region, which determines the isotype of the immunoglobulin. The light chains are bound to the heavy chains are non-convalent disulfide bonds. The V-regions of the light and heavy chains pair together to form the Fab region on the arms of the Y-structure. The trunk of the Y-structure, consisting of the carboxyl-terminal domains of the heavy chains make up the Fc fragment. The Fc fragment determines the different isotype of the immunoglobulin and interacts with different effector molecules. There is a hinge region joining the Fab and Fc regions allowing the antibody independent movement to maximize its antigen binding capabilities.




DARA-T Workup

Daratumumab (Darzalex) is an IgG1k monoclonal antibody directed against CD38, which is over expressed on the plasma cells in patients with multiple myeloma. Daratumumab binds to CD38 and causes apoptosis through antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity or complement-dependent cytotoxicity. In 2015 the FDA approved daratumumab for the treatment of refractory multiple myeloma. Refractory meaning that patients have received at least three previous treatment protocols that failed to show sustained efficacy or any efficacy at all. Recently in May of 2018, the FDA approved daratumumab for first line therapy in combination with bortezomid, melphalan, and prednisone. The names of the drugs aren’t important, what is important is that this monoclonal antibody approach has become more common and now has moved into first line therapy meaning that more patients are going to receive this treatment. Its no secret that patients with multiple myeloma when undergoing treatment and throughout the course of the disease progression need blood component transfusions.

Typing and screening patients that are receiving daratumumab is extremely difficult and time consuming. The daratumumab not only binds to the CD38 on the malignant lymphoma cells, but it also binds to the red cells who express CD38. This causes interference in transfusion testing. Part of normal pre-transfusion testing is an antibody screen. An antibody screen is important as it tells the transfusion team if there are any alloantibodies. Alloantibodies are antibodie directed towards red cell antigens on the donor cells. If a patient has an alloantibody, it makes selecting red cells for transfusion difficult. Additional testing must be done to select antigen negative donor cells for the antibody that the recipient or the patient has. Daratumumab causes the antibody screen and corresponding antibody panel panreactive, including a positive autocontrol. This may mask any additional clinically significant alloantibody that the patient may have.

The blood bank team must perform testing prior to the patient receiving this daratumumab. The clinical team must be in communication with the blood bank. Before the patient receives the medication, the team must get a baseline type and screen. Normally they are negative, but in the off chance that they have an alloantibody, the blood bank can identify the antibody before daratumumab interferes with testing. Other testing must include a complete phenotype of the patients cell. A complete phenotype will identify all the antigens that are present on the patients cells. This tells the blood bank and clinician vital information. If the patient does NOT have the antigen present on their red cells, there is a chance that they can produce an antibody towards that antigen on donor cells making it hard to find correct donors for transfusion. For example, if the patient is negative for the E antigen, they may or may not develop an antibody towards the E antigen, so in the event that the donor red cells have the E antigen present, the patients antibody will attack those cells and cause a transfusion reaction. For the characteristics of different transfusion reactions, reference transfusion reactions.

Once the daratumumab has been given there are techniques that must be followed to obtain a sample that is suitable for testing. An enzyme called dithiothreitol (DTT) is used to negate the binding of DARA-T to CD38 on the red cell surface. This will allow for an antibody screen to be run. Unfortunately, DTT destroys the Kell antigen on the red cell surface. Kell is a clinically significant antibody in transfusions so its important to know whether or not if the patient has the antigen or not. Patients treated with DTT, MUST have Kell negative donor units, because of the risk of developing an anti-K antibody and not being able to identify it.


The Precipitation Curve

This article will review basic immunology principles by defining key terms and explaining different techniques and phenomenons.

Key Definitions

Sensitization is the basic reaction of an antigen and an antibody binding. During an antigen:antibody reaction, the antigen or the antibody can be measured using a variety of methods. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

These reactions are sensitive and there are multiple external factors that affect the effectiveness of the reaction. The temperature, pH and concentration of the reactants effect the reaction itself. The length of incubation also affects the reaction. This principle applies to doing an indirect antiglobulin test for pre-transfusion testing. The reaction needs to incubate at 37 degrees celsius for a minimum of 15 minutes to properly allow the IgG antibodies to react and form a complex with their specific antigen.

The antigen:antibody reaction has three distinct phases; the primary phenomenon is the initial combination of a single antibody binding to its corresponding single antigen. The secondary phenomenon is where these single antibody:antigen reactions create a lattice formation to create large molecules which are easily detectable. The tertiary phenomenon is the effect that these immune complexes have within the tissues; this could be inflammation, phagocytosis, deposition of the immune complexes, immune adherence, and chemotaxis.


The primary reaction of an antigen and an antibody depends on two defining characteristics; affinity and avidity. Affinity is the initial force of attraction that an antibody has for its specific antigenic epitope or determinant. Avidity is the sum of all attractive forces between an antigen and an antibody. The stronger the chemical bonds that hold the antibody:antigen complex together, the less likely that the reaction will reverse.

Precipitation involves the combination of a soluble antibody with a soluble antigen which produces insoluble complexes.

Agglutination is the process which particulate antigen aggregate to form visible complexes if the specific antibody is present.

Complement fixation is the triggering of the classical complement pathway due to the combination of the antigen with its specific antibody.

The Precipitin Curve

Precipitation reactions are dependent on the amount of antigen and antibody present in the test system. The precipitin curve is a graphic representation of these reactions that occur when the concentration of one reactant is constant for every test sample, while the concentration of the second reactant is increased serially in the test samples. The two reactants can be interchangeable, so the constant in any given reaction can either be the antigen or the antibody. For the purpose of this article, the antibody is going to be the constant. The addition of low concentrations of antibody allows the formation of soluble immune complexes, however as the concentration of the antigen is increased, precipitation is observed. The precipitin is the insoluble complexes. The antigen concentration continues to rise until the maximum amount of precipitin is reached. This point is called the equivalence point. The equivalence point is where there is optimum proportions of antigen and antibody to result in lattice formations to form insoluble immune complexes. When antigen concentration continues to rise past the equivalence point, the precipitin observed decreases. The curve is classed into three regions.

The early stage of the precipitin curve before the equivalence point is called the prozone and it is a zone of antibody excess. In the zone of antibody excess, there is insufficient antigen to form the large immune complexes comprised of extensive cross-linking. Its because of this principle that there will be false negative reactions. As more antigen is added, these complexes are able to form and it reaches the equivalence point.

The late stage of the precipitin curve is called the postzone and it is the zone of antigen excess. When there is an increasing amount of antigen added beyond the zone of equivalence, there is a gradual decrease in the amount of precipitin observed, until finally there is zero precipitation observed. There is free antigen is the solution. At this point all the antibody binding sites are saturated by multiple antigens and as a result there is less cross-linking leading to soluble immune complexes. This also leads to a false negative reaction.

To recap on what has been learned; There is a precipitation curve that represents the proportion of antigen and antibody concentrations, one being constant, and the other being added in serial additions. The postzone is the zone of antibody excess, resulting in the inability to form cross-linked immune complexes resulting in false negative reactions. The prozone is the zone of antigen excess which also leads to a failure to form cross-linked immune complex. The prozone, just like the postzone, results in a false-negative reaction.