Minimalistic In Vitro Culture to Drive Human Naive B Cell Differentiation into Antibody-Secreting Cells

Peter-Paul A. Unger, Niels J. M. Verstegen, Casper Marsman, Tineke Jorritsma, Theo Rispens, Anja ten Brinke, S. Marieke van Ham

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


High-affinity antibody-secreting cells (ASC) arise from terminal differentiation of B-cells after coordinated interactions with T follicular helper (Tfh) cells in germinal centers (GC). Elucidation of cues promoting human naive B-cells to progress into ASCs is challenging, as this process is notoriously difficult to induce in vitro while maintaining enough cell numbers to investigate the differentiation route(s). Here, we describe a minimalistic in vitro culture system that supports efficient differentiation of human naive B-cells into antibody-secreting cells. Upon initial stimulations, the interplay between level of CD40 costimulation and the Tfh cell-associated cytokines IL-21 and IL-4 determined the magnitude of B-cell expansion, immunoglobulin class-switching and expression of ASC regulator PRDM1. In contrast, the B-cell-specific transcriptional program was maintained, and efficient ASC formation was hampered. Renewed CD40 costimulation and Tfh cytokines exposure induced rapid secondary STAT3 signaling and extensive ASC differentiation, accompanied by repression of B-cell identity factors PAX5, BACH2 and IRF8 and further induction of PRDM1. Our work shows that, like in vivo, renewed CD40L costimulation also induces efficient terminal ASC differentiation after initial B-cell expansion in vitro. This culture system for efficient differentiation of human naive B-cells into ASCs, while also maintaining high cell numbers, may form an important tool in dissecting human naive B-cell differentiation, thereby enabling identification of novel transcriptional regulators and biomarkers for desired and detrimental antibody formation in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1183
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2021


  • Cell differentiation
  • Costimulatory molecules
  • Cytokines
  • Transcription factors

Cite this