Direct cell/cell communication occurs through gap junctions (GJ). We mapped GJ expression in secondary lymphoid organs and found, for the first time, a high density of connexin43 (Cx43) GJ in follicular dendritic cells (FDC) in close association with lymphocytes. In this work, we used a combination of ultrastructural, immunocytochemical, molecular methods, and functional dye transfer experiments to study which germinal center cells are involved in direct cell/cell communication and how GJ expression is regulated during antigen responses. One week after injecting the footpad of mice with 50 μg lysozyme, Cx43 GJ were detected on elongated cells in the paracortex of their popliteal lymph nodes. Repeated challenge led to the formation of secondary follicles with enlarged FDC meshwork full of Cx43 GJ. This positive correlation may reflect an importance for GJ in the pattern formation of FDC and lymphoid follicles. In human tonsil, the density of GJ and FDC was highest in the light zone of germinal centers where the fate of B cells is thought to be decided. Cx43 colocalized with CD21 and CD35 antigens in the vicinity of desmosomal junctions on FDC embracing lymphocytes. Freeze-fracture hallmarks of GJ of 200-400 nm were also found on FDC in the vicinity of desmosomal plaques. Furthermore, Northern blot analysis showed the consistent presence of Cx43 mRNA in human tonsil and spleen. Most Cx43 message was localized in situ to cells with FDC morphology and some to a few germinal center lymphocytes. To investigate functional cell coupling, we set up FDC/B cell cultures from the low density cell fractions of human tonsils. Cx43 plaques associated with lymphocytes were detected both on elongated FDC processes in early cultures (up to 4 h) and in established FDC/B cell clusters (between 4 and 24 h). In early cultures, we injected FDC with Lucifer Yellow, a fluorescent dye which passes through GJ: the dye spread into adjacent FDC and occasionally from FDC into CD19+ B cells. Based on these results, we propose that direct cell/cell communication through Cx43 GJ is involved in FDC/FDC and in FDC/B cell interactions. The functionally coupled FDC meshwork may serve as a communication channel synchronizing germinal center events. FDC may also deliver crucial direct signals through GJ involved in the rescue of high-affinity B cell clones from apoptotic cell death.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy