After bone marrow transplantation (BMT), a prolonged dysregulation of humoral immunity can be observed. In the present study, we investigated whether this is reflected in an abnormal production of specific antibodies (Ab) to the T-cell-dependent recall antigen tetanus-toxoid (TT). The study group consisted of children receiving transplants of an unmodified allogeneic graft and of adults receiving either a T-cell- depleted allogeneic or an unmodified autologous BM graft. Findings were compared with those in healthy controls. In pediatric graft recipients, who were routinely revaccinated early after BMT, the Ab response was quantitatively superior to that in adult graft recipients who did not receive early revaccination. In the majority of graft recipients, the time period after vaccination required to reach the peak level of antibodies was prolonged and the number of responding TT-specific B- cell clones was markedly decreased in comparison with controls. In controls, a low frequency of dominant B-cell clones may produce low quantities of homogeneous Ab components (H-Ab) against a heterogeneous background. However, in BM graft recipients, “overshooting” of Ab production by separate B-cell clones was observed, resulting in the development of H-Ab at a relatively high concentration. These abnormalities were present up to 10 years after BMT, irrespective of either the age of the recipient, the modulation of the graft, or the vaccination schedule used. It is hypothesized that the dysregulated Ab production is the consequence of activation of a restricted number of resting memory B cells, present in germinal centers, repopulating gradually after BMT. Our data show that routine revaccination early after BMT improves the humoral immune response. However, because of a clonally dysregulated Ab production, long-lasting qualitative defects may be present even after normalization of Ab titers.

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