Differential expression of CD21 identifies developmentally and functionally distinct subsets of human transitional B cells

Santi Suryani, David A. Fulcher, Brigitte Santner-Nanan, Ralph Nanan, Melanie Wong, Peter J. Shaw, John Gibson, Andrew Williams, Stuart G. Tangye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


The transitional stage of B-cell development represents an important step where autoreactive cells are deleted, allowing the generation of a mature functional B-cell repertoire. In mice, 3 subsets of transitional B cells have been identified. In contrast, most studies of human transitional B cells have focused on a single subset defined as CD24hiCD38hi B cells. Here, we have identified 2 subsets of human transitional B cells based on the differential expression of CD21. CD21hi transitional cells displayed higher expression of CD23, CD44, and IgD, and exhibited greater proliferation and Ig secretion in vitro than CD21lo transitional B cells. In contrast, the CD21lo subset expressed elevated levels of LEF1, a transcription factor highly expressed by immature lymphocytes, and produced higher amounts of autoreactive Ab. These phenotypic, functional, and molecular features suggest that CD21lo transitional B cells are less mature than the CD21hi subset. This was confirmed by analyzing X-linked agammaglobulinemia patients and the kinetics of B-cell reconstitution after stem cell transplantation, which revealed that the development of CD21lo transitional B cells preceded that of CD21hi transitional cells. These findings provide important insights into the process of human B-cell development and have implications for understanding the processes underlying perturbed B-cell maturation in autoimmune and immunodeficient conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-529
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


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