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To whom correspondence should be addressed: Dept. of Immunology, Unit 902, The University of Texas, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030. Tel.: 713-563-3212; Fax: 713-563-3357;
* This work was supported by Grants 6161-03 from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and AI 056125-01 from the National Institutes of Health. The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.H. M-V. dedicates the present work to the memory of the late Dr. Jacques Chiller. His friendship and his remarkable support to science will be forever remembered. The on-line version of this article (available at http://www.jbc.org) contains supplemental material.The nucleotide sequence(s) reported in this paper has been submitted to the GenBank™/EBI Data Bank with accession number(s) AJ004956. § Recipients of the Smith Predoctoral Fellowship. ¶ Supported by the National Institutes of Health Training Grant T32 CA009598-15.
By confining germline transcription as a byproduct of the mechanisms inherent to genetic rearrangements, the translation of respective mRNAs and their biological relevance might have been overlooked. Here we report the identification, cloning, and biochemical characterization of a human Vκ-like protein that is encoded by a germline transcript. This surrogate protein assembles with the immunoglobulin μ heavy chain at the surface of B cell progenitors and precursors to form a κ-like antigen receptor. These findings support the notion that germline transcription is not futile and stress the flexibility in eukaryotic gene usage and expression. In addition, the present study confirms the co-existence of surrogate λ and κ receptors that are proposed to work in concert to promote B lymphocyte maturation.
The remarkable diversity of the eukaryotic genome stems from the distinct expression patterns of genes in different tissues. Whereas some gene products are required for basal cell functions and are constitutively expressed by most cells, a restricted transcription and translation dictate tissue- and cell-specific functions. For instance, the expression of antigen (Ag)
receptor genes is developmentally controlled, and it is exclusive of the immune cells. A problem with such restriction, as experienced by the adaptive immune system in mammals, is the requirement of a broad repertoire of Ag receptor genes that surpasses the encoded capacity of the genome (
). Indeed, the paired variable (V), diversity (D), and joining (J) protein sequences that furnish Ag specificity are encoded by distinct gene segments, which in their germline configuration are distantly separated and cannot produce a contiguous transcript. Thus, during gene rearrangement, B and T lymphocyte progenitor/precursors use one of the many V, D, and J segments that are distantly clustered, in a manner that results in a clonally unique Ag-binding sequence (
), it was prematurely concluded that the expression of germline Ig genes was sterile and limited to transcription, with no other function than promoting chromatin changes and gene loci accessibility. However several studies in B lymphocytes have demonstrated that Ig gene rearrangement is initiated by signals that are driven through the λ-like PreB cell receptor, which is formed by the μ heavy chain (μHC) in conjunction with unrearranged/germline surrogate light chains (SLC) λ5 and VpreB (
). In line with this prediction, a surrogate Jκ-Cκ (SJCκ) germline transcript, encoding a protein with the capacity to covalently associate with μHC at the surface of Pro/PreB cells, was identified and characterized as a candidate to form the alternative κ-like PreB receptor (
) support the notion that germline transcription is not sterile and stress the relevance of the encoded proteins in cell and developmental functions.
The PreB acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) cell line Blin-1 and the mature B cell line 1E8 derived from Blin-1 after in vitro rearrangement and maturation were kind gifts from Dr. Tucker LeBien. The PreB ALL cell line PreALP was previously reported for the characterization of the surrogate JCκ molecule (
) was a generous gift from Dr. Max Cooper. The PreB ALL cell line Nalm 6, the Burkitt lymphoma cell lines Daudi and Namalwa, and the T cell line Jurkat were obtained from the American Type Culture Collection. Last, enrichment of normal ProB/PreB cells from human bone marrow was accomplished by negatively selecting with a custom-made antibody mixture (anti-CD2, CD3, CD13, CD14, CD16, CD36, CD56, CD66b, and glycophorin A), using magnetic-activated cell sorting (MACS) according to the manufacturer's guidelines (StemCell Technologies, Vancouver, BC).
Anti-IgM antibodies were obtained from BD Biosciences (San Diego, CA). Two affinity-purified anti-Vκ-like IgGs were custom-made: Antibody p42–58, which reacts with a peptide encompassing amino acids 42–58 of the Vκ-like protein sequence, was produced by Neosystem Laboratory (Strasbourg, France); Antibody pGL121–142 was custom-made by Bethyl Laboratories (Montgomery, TX) against a germline Vκ-specific peptide comprising the heptamer/spacer/nonamer domain between amino acids 121 and 142.
Total RNA was extracted using the TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen) and following a previously described method. Poly(A)+ was subsequently purified by two rounds of oligo d(T)12–18 chromatography using the FastTractR kit (Invitrogen) according to the manufacturer's specifications.
Cell Lines—A total of 0.5 μg of poly(A)+ RNA from PreB ALL or mature B cell lines were reverse-transcribed using oligo d(T)12–18 and the RT kit Superscript II™ (Invitrogen) according to the manufacturer's instructions. The use of poly(A)+ RNA as a template and oligo d(T) as a primer in the RT reaction was aimed at preventing PCR amplifications originating from potential genomic DNA contaminants. A total of 2 μl of RT reaction product was amplified through 35 cycles (30 s at 94 °C, 30 s at 60 °C, and 1 min at 72 °C) using a previously described method (
) and the RT-PCR-generated germline Vκ cDNA probes. Sequencing was carried out by automated DNA sequencing (The University of Texas, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center DNA sequencing core facility).
For immunoprecipitation, 2 × 107 cells were lysed and precipitated with anti-IgM or anti-Vκ-like antibodies. To assess the molecular association of the μHC with the Vκ-like molecule, we performed IPs using 2 mg of protein lysates of Blin-1 or freshly isolated normal ProB/PreB cells. The immunoprecipitations were carried out using anti-IgM monoclonal antibodies coupled to agarose beads (Sigma) and anti-Vκ-like antibodies. After overnight incubation at 4 °C, the anti-Vκ-like antibodies were pulled-down using protein A-agarose (Roche Applied Science). The IgM and Vκ-like immunocomplexes were extensively washed with radioimmune precipitation assay buffer and analyzed by Western blots.
Immunoblotting analyses were carried out following SDS-PAGE (
) using a commercial electrotransfer system (Bio-Rad) according to the supplier's protocol. Reactivity to Vκ moieties was determined by the binding of the antipeptide sera p42–58, which reacts with the variable κ domain, and pGL121–142, which specifically targets the germline Vκ molecule. Reactivity to p42–58 was directly tested by Western blotting without a precipitation step. To enhance the specificity toward Ig complexes, western binding to pGL121–142 was preceded by immunoprecipitation of the cell lysates with either protein A (known to bind Ig Fc domain) or anti-μHC + protein A. Western blots were revealed by autoradiography (15 min) after the chemiluminescence reaction, using the SuperSignal™ West Pico Chemiluminescent System (Pierce).
Vκ-like-enriched normal ProB/PreB cells (Fig. 6a), were multi-parametrically stained with the following antibodies: CD19 Tricolor, and CD10 APC (Caltag Labs, Burlingame, CA); CD34 PE-Cy7 (Becton Dickinson, San Jose, CA); custom-produced affinity-purified rabbit-anti Vκ (pGL121–142, Bethyl Laboratories, Inc. Montgomery, TX), followed by goat anti-rabbit-FITC (Caltag); mouse anti-human IgM (BD Pharmigen, San Diego, CA), followed by an anti-mouse-FITC (Caltag). Cells were selectively gated for the Vκ-like or IgM-expressing cells and subsequently phenotyped for CD34, CD19, and CD10. The phenotype analysis was carried out on a Moflo flow cytometer (Cytomation, Inc., Fort Collins, CO) equipped with a 488-nm argon laser (Enterprise II, Coherent Inc., Palo Alto, CA) and a 647-nm Argon/Krypton laser (Innova 70 Spectrum, Coherent). Individually stained control cells were used to set the compensation. 500,000 events were acquired for the final analysis.
Surface Staining, Enzymatic Amplification, and Flow Cytometry
An enzymatic amplification staining (EAS) kit (FlowAmp Systems, Ltd.) was used, following the manufacturer's instructions. Briefly, 1 × 106 Blin-1 cells were washed with staining buffer (phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), pH 7.4; 2% fetal bovine serum, and 0.1% sodium azide). Cells were then reacted with the pGL121–142 antibody (1.0 μg/106 cells) at 4 °C for 20 min in 50 μl of staining buffer. The reaction was followed by two 2.0-ml washes with staining buffer, and the cell pellets were subsequently reacted by incubating them at 4 °C for 20 min with a horseradish peroxidase-conjugated anti-rabbit second antibody (diluted 1:100) in 50 μl of staining buffer. Cells were subsequently washed at least three times with sodium azide-free staining buffer. After a thorough cell washing to remove the sodium azide, cells were exposed to the EAS amplifier reagent (diluted 1:20) for 10 min at room temperature, followed by a 10-min incubation with the detector reagent (fluorescein isothiocyanate-conjugated streptavidin, diluted 1:100) at room temperature. Surface anti-Vκ-like reactivity was detected by flow cytometry in an Epics Profile analyzer (Beckman/Coulter Inc., Fullerton, CA).
Fluorescence Surface Staining
Normal ProB/PreB and Blin-1 cells were washed with PBS, followed by a 30-min incubation at 37 °C with the DNA-binding fluorochrome Hoechst 33342 (Molecular Probes, Eugene, OR) to stain the nuclei. Alternatively, nuclei were stained with TO-PRO-3 marker (Molecular Probes). Typically, 1–5 × 104 cells were cytocentrifuged onto microscope slides. Cells were fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde in PBS for 10 min at room temperature. Fixed cells were washed three times with PBS and blocked with PBS containing 5% goat sera and 2% fetal bovine serum for 1.0 h at room temperature. After the blocking of nonspecific sites, cells were washed three times with PBS and simultaneously reacted overnight at 4 °C in a humidity chamber with anti-μH and the pGL121–142 antibodies in PBS + 2% fetal bovine serum. After the overnight incubation cells were thoroughly washed with PBS and simultaneously stained in the dark for 1.0 h at room temperature with Alexa488 (green fluorescence)-conjugated anti-mouse and Alexa594 (red fluorescence)-conjugated anti-rabbit antibodies (Molecular Probes). Unbound antibody was removed by three washes with PBS, universal mount was added (Research Genetics, Huntsville, AL), and coverslips were applied. Surface anti-μHC and anti-Vκ-like reactivity was analyzed by three-channel (green, red, and blue fluorescence) confocal microscopy (Olympus 1X71; PMT 0–900 V; Scan speed 0.005184 s/line). Alternatively, images were captured or standard fluorescence microscopy.
) has both κ and λ gene loci in germline configuration but expresses germline Ig κ light chain (LC) transcripts. To determine whether PreALP does express germline Vκ transcripts, RT-PCR analysis was designed to specifically target germline sequences. Briefly, poly(A)+ RNA was prepared from either PreALP or mature B cell lines by standard methods and converted into cDNA. PCR reactions were carried out using forward 5′ degenerate Vκ leader (LVκ) oligonucleotide primers in combination with consensus reverse 3′ primers, spanning a sequence from the germline heptamer/spacer/nonamer region (Fig. 1a). The degeneracy of the designed primers allows comprehensive coverage of the known Vκ (LVκ 1–6) gene families (
). As shown in Fig. 1a, a 360-bp germline Vκ transcript was detected in the RT-PCR reactions in which degenerate primers from the LVκ3 and LVκ5 gene family pools were used. To rule out the germline Vκ transcription as an isolated phenomenon of the cell line PreALP, RT-PCR experiments were carried out with the cell line Blin-1, also known to express germline Vκ transcripts (
). As also shown in Fig. 1a, a comparable amplification of the 360-bp germline Vκ transcript was obtained with Blin-1 and PreALP mRNAs, thus ruling out a PreALP cell line idiosyncrasy.
We next investigated whether the PreALP cells have spontaneously undergone LC rearrangement, by testing the expression of rearranged Vκ-transcripts. To that end, RT-PCR experiments were carried, using the forward (5′) LVκ primer pool in combination with a reverse (3′) Cκ region primer. Fig. 1b shows that whereas the mature B cells Daudi and B207 expressed the expected 450-bp rearranged Vκ transcripts, PreALP routinely lacked conventional κLC expression.
Cloning and Sequencing of Full-length Germline Vκ cDNA—The germline Vκ expression revealed by RT-PCR amplification depicted transcripts that could be assigned to distinct LVκ gene families. Namely, one strong and predominant amplified with degenerate primer pools that related to the gene family Vκ3 and a weaker one, whose amplifying primers related to the gene family Vκ5 (Fig. 1a). Although the primer pools (LVκ 1–6 in Fig. 1a) do correspond to bona fide LVκ genes (
), the degeneracy of the oligonucleotides could result in cDNA amplifications with LVκ gene family overlap. Therefore, the identity of the transcript encoding the putative Vκ-like molecule could only be established by the cloning and sequencing of the full-length germline Vκ cDNA. In keeping with this rationale, a cDNA library that originated from the cell line PreALP was screened, using an equimolar ratio of the RT-PCR-generated Vκ3 and Vκ5-like cDNA probes. A single cDNA of 700 bp was identified, cloned, and sequenced, revealing an open reading frame of 180 amino acids that predicted a polypeptide with a deduced molecular mass of 19 kDa (Fig. 2).
The deduced Vκ-like protein exhibited three distinct features: (a) a variable κ domain from amino acids 1–120 that is identical to the Vκ4 gene p06312 (
) and possesses a signal peptide and three complementarity determining regions (CDRs); (b) the Vκ4 sequence similarity ends at amino acid 120 and has no identifiable Jκ segment; and (c) it has a unique segment from amino acids 121–180 that includes the heptamer-spacer-nonamer region, which is a bona fide signature of its germline configuration. Intriguingly, the Vκ4 identity of the Vκ-like protein, as deduced from its full-length cDNA, appeared to be at odds with the LVκ3 and LVκ5 gene assignments of the primers that amplified the germline transcripts (Fig. 1a). However and as stressed earlier, the degeneracy of the oligonucleotide primer pools used in the amplification of Vκ-like cDNA cannot provide unambiguous Vκ gene identity, whereas the full-length cDNA cloning and sequencing can. These data show that PreB cells express germline Vκ transcripts that can potentially translate into a Vκ-like protein and support the hypothesis of a surrogate Vκ-like protein that could be a structural component of the κ PreB receptor.
Expression and Germline Identity of the Vκ-like Protein— Although the cloned cDNA does encode a Vκ-like protein, there is no evidence that the germline Vκ transcript can indeed translate into the deduced protein. To assess the expression of the Vκ-like protein and at the same time confirm its germline identity, two affinity-purified anti-Vκ antibodies were generated. The first antibody p42–58 was raised against a peptide that spanned amino acids 42–58 from the deduced Vκ4 sequence of the cloned Vκ-like cDNA. In contrast, the reactivity of second antibody pGL121–142 aimed at the exclusive recognition of germline Vκ4-like proteins by the use of a peptide within amino acids 121–142, which included the heptamer-spacer-nonamer region of the Vκ4-like protein. Fig. 3a shows the results of the Western blot analysis obtained with the PreB cell lines PreALP and Blin-1, which revealed the antibody p42–58 reactivity to Vκ-like proteins of the predicted molecular size. In contrast, the cell line 1E8, a mature B cell derivative of Blin-1 (
), expressed only trace levels of the Vκ-like molecule. These results are consistent with the productive translation of the germline Vκ transcripts expressed by the PreALP and Blin-1 cells and stress the relevance of their expression during B cell ontogeny. The germline nature of the Vκ-like molecule was subsequently confirmed by the specific reactivity of the affinity-purified antibody pGL121–142, which can only detect proteins that possess the cDNA-deduced germline Vκ4 structure (Fig. 3b). The likelihood for the existence of other Vκ-like proteins involving distinct but closely related Vκ genes was again prompted by the detection of additional protein bands revealed by both p42–56 and pGL121–142 antibodies. Because the anti-Vκ p42–58 antibody may target an epitope common to other Vκ-like proteins, its stronger reactivity could be anticipated, since the pGL121–142 antibody can only react with unique germline protein residues. Nevertheless, the anti-Vκ pGL121–142 antibody does reveal (albeit with weaker strength) the same molecular species as p42–56 and further confirms the germline nature of the detected Vκ-like proteins, whose different sizes could have alternatively derived from distinct post-translational processing.
It is noteworthy that the Vκ-like reactivity of the antibody pGL121–142 appeared indistinguishable when the Western blots were preceded by an immunoprecipitation step with either protein A alone or anti-μHC + protein A. These results are in line with the capacity of protein A to bind IgM in addition to most IgG subclasses (
). Because the Blin-1 cells concomitantly express μHC and Vκ-like proteins, the co-immunoprecipitation and correlative detection of IgM and the surrogate Vκ-like protein by Western blot was expected (Fig. 3, b and c). The specificity of the protein A-mediated IP experiments for the μHC/Vκ-like immune complex was demonstrated by the incapacity of the agarose-protein A conjugate to precipitate any detectable proteins from the T cell line lysates with either the anti-Vκ-like pGL121–142 or the anti-IgM antibodies (lanes 3 and 2 in Fig. 3, b and c, respectively). Together these findings demonstrate that the PreB cells tested express Vκ-like proteins that are detectable by two antibodies, which target two distinct regions of the same surrogate protein, and further support the notion that germline transcripts can be productively translated. The data additionally suggest that the Vκ-like molecules may associate with μHC at the surface of PreB cells to form the κ PreB receptor (
The Vκ-like Protein Is Expressed at the Cell Surface and Associates with μHC—Previous studies have demonstrated that surrogate Ig-like proteins can covalently bind μHC at the surface of PreB cells to form the κ PreB receptor (
). However, it remained to be determined whether the Vκ-like molecule also assembles with μHC at the surface of PreB cells. As in earlier experiments, the PreB cell line Blin-1 was chosen for subsequent studies because it represents a homogeneous cell population and expresses significant levels of the Vκ-like protein (Fig. 3, a and b). To first determine whether the cell lines express the Vκ-like protein at the cell membrane, Blin-1 cells were surface-stained using the germline Vκ-like-specific antibody pGL121–142 and subsequently analyzed by flow cytometry. Because molecular hindrance can limit detection of complex receptor molecules by flow cytometry, an enzymatic amplification staining procedure (
) was used to assess the expression of the Vκ-like molecule at the surface of Blin-1 cells. Whereas it is conceivable that the number of Vκ-like sites at the surface of the Blin-1 cells could remain low, its expression was expected to be clonally distributed through the majority of the cells. Therefore, the surface-staining amplification procedure aimed at assessing an accurate estimate of the surface Vκ-like+ cells. Fig. 4a demonstrates that in agreement with its putative role in the formation of the κ PreB receptor complex, the Vκ-like protein can be expressed at the surface of PreB cells. The baseline reactivity of isotype-matched control Ig (fine histogram on the left side of Fig. 4a) stresses the specific and significant surface expression of the Vκ-like molecule.
To investigate whether μHC can form a protein complex with the Vκ-like molecule, reciprocal IP and Western blot assays were carried out as follows: First and in order to analyze proteins complexed with μHC, Blin-1 protein lysates were precipitated with a monoclonal anti-IgM antibody directly conjugated to agarose beads. The anti-IgM immune complex was subsequently analyzed by Western blotting for the presence of the Vκ-like protein, using the anti-Vκ-like pGL121–142 antibody. To reciprocally assess whether μHC is complexed with the Vκ-like molecule, IP was next carried out with the anti-Vκ-like pGL121–142 antibody and followed by anti-IgM specific Western blot. Fig. 4, b and c demonstrate that μHC and the surrogate Vκ-like protein are associated, as their reciprocal IP and Western blots revealed their concomitant presence in the respective immune complexes. The fact that the same antibody reactivities were completely negative when T cell protein lysates were used, further substantiated the specificity of μHC/Vκ-like IP and Western blots (Fig. 4, b and c).
Focal Cell Surface Co-localization of the μHC and Vκ-like Proteins—Although the surface expression of the Vκ-like protein and its physical association with μHC could be revealed by flow cytometry and reciprocal IP/Western blots respectively, the results in Fig. 4 do not prove that the μHC and Vκ-like proteins can co-localize at the cell surface. Therefore, to determine whether the Vκ-like protein has the capacity to associate with μH at the surface of PreB cells, Vκ-like and μHC fluorescent surface staining of the cell line Blin-1 was carried out, using the monoclonal anti-IgM antibody (green fluorescence) and anti-germline Vκ-specific antibody pGL121–142 (red fluorescence). Confocal microscopy (Fig. 5) demonstrates that indeed, μHC and Vκ-like molecules can be focally localized at the surface of PreB cells. More importantly and consistent with their reciprocal co-IP (Fig. 4, b and c), the green and red fluorescence overlap (yellow/orange image) depicted in Fig. 5c provides additional support for the molecular association of μHC and Vκ-like molecules at the surface of the PreB cell line Blin-1 (The negative controls validating the specificity of the antibody reactivities are accessible in the Supplementary Fig. 5, e–h). Collectively, the data presented in Fig. 5 support the notion of a κ PreB receptor, which can be formed by μHC in conjunction with surrogate κ-like molecules.
Vκ-like Expression by Normal Pro/PreB Cells—The preceding experiments have shown that PreB cell lines can express the Vκ-like protein in conjunction with μHC. However, we have not proved that the surrogate κ-like protein can be expressed during the normal B cell ontogeny. To examine the surface expression of the Vκ-like molecule and determine the significance of the κ-PreB receptor at distinct stages of the normal B cell maturation program, fresh human bone marrow aspirates from normal donors were obtained and sorted into a Vk-like enriched ProB/PreB subset (Fig. 6a). Vκ-like+ cells were further phenotyped by flow cytometry without the enzymatic amplification step, since a more heterogeneous distribution of the κ-like PreB receptor can be anticipated. As depicted in Fig. 6b, the sorted ProB/PreB subset concomitantly express Vκ-like and μHC and are CD34lowCD19lowCD10high, suggesting that surface Vκ-like expression is relevant at the transition from ProB to PreB stages and that its assembly with μHC could precede the conventional λ5/VpreB receptor. These findings were further supported by the capacity of the ProB/PreB-sorted subset to express the Vκ-like at the mRNA level (Fig. 7a).
Vκ-like and μHC Association and Assembly at the Surface of Normal ProB and PreB Cells—To biochemically prove that the formation of Vκ-like/μHC complex is also relevant for normal B cell ontogeny, protein lysates from the ProB/PreB subsets were IP and analyzed by Western blots. To that end, protein lysates from freshly sorted normal ProB/PreB cells were subjected to IP with the agarose-conjugated anti-IgM antibody. The IP protein complex was subsequently analyzed by Western blots to reveal the presence Vκ-like and μHC proteins by the respective reactivity of the anti-IgM and the anti Vκ-like pGL121–142 antibodies. Fig. 7b demonstrates that the Vκ-like and μHC proteins are expressed and biochemically associated in normal ProB/PreB cells.
In support of these findings, immunofluorescence staining (Fig. 8) shows the focal expression of the Vκ-like and μHC proteins, thus confirming their capacity to assemble at the surface of normal ProB and PreB cells. It is noteworthy that among the surface Vκ-like+μHC+ (1 in 4 per field), Vκ-like+μHC– and Vκ-like–μHC– can also be detected, indicating the presence of distinct ProB (Vκ-like+μHC–) and PreB (Vκ-like+μHC+) cells. The results in Fig. 8 additionally suggest that the Vκ-like protein is expressed at ProB cell stage prior to μHC rearrangement. Moreover, the presence of Vκ-like–μHC– cells in the immunofluorescent field further emphasizes the specificity of the anti-IgM and anti Vκ-like pGL121–142 antibodies.
In most eukaryotic cells the DNA content is several orders of magnitude higher than the one required for the coding of proteins. However, beyond the sequence annotations for protein coding, the human genome stands out with a complex gene expression diversity that breaches the limits of gene usage and function. Such diversity is largely contributed by genetic rearrangements, differential RNA processing, and alternative translation initiation mechanisms. In keeping with this notion, genes previously ascribed to only yield non-coding germline mRNAs, are increasingly being documented to productively translate into small and long polypeptides, which conform to the cell lineage phenotype and function (
). Structural studies have subsequently revealed that these genes have significant homology with conventional λLC but differ in that they do not undergo rearrangement. The finding that SLC genes are expressed by PreB cells before κLC and λLC chains are rearranged is consistent with the notion of PreB Ag receptors. Whereas λ5/14.1 is a homologue of the Jλ-Cλ genes, (
). The present work reports the identification and molecular characterization of a Vκ-like protein that, in analogy to the VpreB molecule, is the product of an unrearranged Vκ gene. The finding that the Vκ-like protein can also assemble with μHC at the surface of PreB cells further supports the co-existence of λ and κ PreB receptors that can function in a coordinated manner to promote LC rearrangement. The present study further proposes that B cell precursors expressing either the λ or the κ PreB receptor could respond to antigen-like stimuli from the bone marrow microenvironment and selectively signal the rearrangement of λLC or κLC, respectively. It is noteworthy that the expression of the Vκ-like molecule occurs in a developmentally specific manner that peaks at the transition from the ProB to PreB stages, thus suggesting that the κ PreB receptor plays an essential role in the mechanisms that lead to IgHC allelic exclusion (
Our working hypothesis proposes the κ-like PreB receptor as a back-up mechanism that operates in concert with the conventional λ5 surrogate chains to ensure LC rearrangement and allelic exclusion. Whereas it is unquestionable that the number of splenic B cells is markedly reduced in the λ5T/T and the triple VpreB1/VpreB2/λ5-deficient mice, mature IgM+, IgD+ expressing κLC are significantly present at 2 weeks (4-fold less than the wild type) and 5–6 weeks of age (2-fold less than the wild type). Although these data could be a priori at odds with the recent observation that mutations in the human λ5 gene result in B cell deficiency (
), it is conceivable that the remarkably distinct lifespan between mice and humans are responsible for the differences in the time required for the reconstitution and accumulation of mature B lymphocytes from κ-like compensatory mechanisms.
The in vivo biological relevance of the κ-like PreB receptor is supported by earlier work. For instance, gene knockin studies (
) demonstrated that while transgenic mice harboring multiple copies of germline Vκ4—Jκ4 genes effectively rescued the λ5T/T-deficiency, the knockin of a rearranged VκJκ transgene only provided a partial reconstitution of λ5 gene inactivation. Furthermore, it has been previously shown that active germline Igκ transcription in the mouse is a prerequisite for κLC rearrangement (
The messages that emerge from the data reported in the present study are: (a) Whereas the function of germline transcription has been mainly regarded as a byproduct of the mechanisms that enhance chromatin accessibility to target gene loci, productive translation of the respective mRNAs might have been overlooked. The cloning of the Vκ-like chain cDNA and the cellular and biochemical characterization of its deduced protein, provide strong support to the concept that germline transcripts (
In conclusion, the missing Vκ-like structural component of κ PreB receptor has now been identified and its co-localization with μH at the surface of Pro/PreB cells demonstrated. The data reported herein strongly support the concept of alternative λ and κ PreB receptors whose functions may represent back-up pathways to ensure the maturation of B lymphocytes.
We thank Dr. Céline Candé for critical reading of the manuscript. We also thank Dr. Tucker LeBien for kindly making the cell lines Blin-1 and 1E8 available for these studies and to Dr. Max Cooper for his generous gift of the cell line B207.