High efficiency human memory B cell assay and its application to studying Plasmodium falciparum-specific memory B cells in natural infections

Weiss GE, Ndungu FM, McKittrick N, Li S, Kimani D, Crompton PD, Marsh K, Pierce SK
J Immunol Methods. 2012;375

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Memory B cells (MBCs) are a key component of long term humoral immunity to many human infectious diseases. Despite their importance, we know little about the generation or maintenance of antigen-(Ag)-specific MBCs in humans in response to infection. A frequently employed method for quantifying Ag-specific MBCs in human peripheral blood (Crotty et al., 2004) relies on the ability of MBCs but not naive B cells to differentiate into antibody secreting cells (ASCs) in response to polyclonal activators and Toll-like receptor agonists in vitro and the measurement of Ag-specific ASCs by ELISPOT assays. Here we report on studies to optimize the efficiency of this ELISPOT-based assay and to apply this assay to the detection of Plasmodium falciparum (Pf)-specific MBCs in adults living in a malaria endemic area where immunity to Pf is acquired through natural infection. We show that the addition of IL-10 to in vitro cultures of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells increased the efficiency of the assay from 10% to over 90% without increasing the ASC burst size and without any substantial increase in background from naive B cells or plasma cells (PCs). Using this assay we were able to quantify the frequency of Pf-specific MBCs in peripheral blood of adults living in a malaria endemic area. Thus, this highly efficient assay appears to be well suited to field studies of the generation and maintenance of MBCs where the volumes of blood obtainable are often limiting.