T cell-dependent activation of B cells is more complex than T cell-independent activation, but the resulting immune response is stronger and develops memory. T cell-dependent activation can occur either in response to free protein antigens or to protein antigens associated with an intact pathogen. Interaction between the BCRs on a naïve mature B cell and a free protein antigen stimulate internalization of the antigen, whereas interaction with antigens associated with an intact pathogen initiates the extraction of the antigen from the pathogen before internalization. Once internalized inside the B cell, the protein antigen is processed and presented with MHC II. The presented antigen is then recognized by helper T cells specific to the same antigen. The TCR of the helper T cell recognizes the foreign antigen, and the T cell’s CD4 molecule interacts with MHC II on the B cell. The coordination between B cells and helper T cells that are specific to the same antigen is referred to as linked recognition.
Once activated by linked recognition, TH2 cells produce and secrete cytokines that activate the B cell and cause proliferation into clonal daughter cells. After several rounds of proliferation, additional cytokines provided by the TH2 cells stimulate the differentiation of activated B cell clones into memory B cells, which will quickly respond to subsequent exposures to the same protein epitope, and plasma cells that lose their membrane BCRs and initially secrete pentameric IgM.
After initial secretion of IgM, cytokines secreted by TH2 cells stimulate the plasma cells to switch from IgM production to production of IgG, IgA, or IgE. This process, called class switching or isotype switching, allows plasma cells cloned from the same activated B cell to produce a variety of antibody classes with the same epitope specificity. Class switching is accomplished by genetic rearrangement of gene segments encoding the constant region, which determines an antibody’s class. The variable region is not changed, so the new class of antibody retains the original epitope specificity.
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