T cell-dependent activation of B cells plays an important role in both the primary and secondary responses associated with adaptive immunity. With the first exposure to a protein antigen, a T cell-dependent primary antibody response occurs. The initial stage of the primary response is a lag period, or latent period, of approximately 10 days, during which no antibody can be detected in serum. This lag period is the time required for all of the steps of the primary response, including naïve mature B cell binding of antigen with BCRs, antigen processing and presentation, helper T cell activation, B cell activation, and clonal proliferation. The end of the lag period is characterized by a rise in IgM levels in the serum, as TH2 cells stimulate B cell differentiation into plasma cells. IgM levels reach their peak around 14 days after primary antigen exposure; at about this same time, TH2 stimulates antibody class switching, and IgM levels in serum begin to decline. Meanwhile, levels of IgG increase until they reach a peak about three weeks into the primary response.
During the primary response, some of the cloned B cells are differentiated into memory B cells programmed to respond to subsequent exposures. This secondary response occurs more quickly and forcefully than the primary response. The lag period is decreased to only a few days and the production of IgG is significantly higher than observed for the primary response. In addition, the antibodies produced during the secondary response are more effective and bind with higher affinity to the targeted epitopes. Plasma cells produced during secondary responses live longer than those produced during the primary response, so levels of specific antibody remain elevated for a longer period of time.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology