Germinal Centres


Germinal centres are transient lymphoid structures appearing inside lymph follicles after an antigenic stimulation. They are closely associated with T‐dependent zones and oriented in the peripheral lymph organs in accordance with the entry of antigens. During this germinal centre reaction, B cells undergo not only clonal amplification but also affinity maturation and class switching of their immunoglobulins. These events, occurring under the control of T cells and in the peculiar environments created by the follicular dendritic cells, lead B cells to mature into B memory cells or into precursors of plasma cells. Most cells generated inside the germinal centres die by apoptosis and are eliminated by the tingible body macrophages. Peculiar genetic, infectious or proliferative pathological conditions can touch the germinal centres.

Key Concepts:

  • Germinal centres are polarised structures annexed to T‐dependent zones.

  • Different cell populations exhibiting peculiar phenotypes compose the germinal centres.

  • Chemotactism, proliferation, survival and maturation of B cells are guided by follicular dendritic cells and follicular T cells.

  • Ig affinity maturation requires somatic hypermutations and stringent cell selection.

  • The germinal centre reaction, induced by antigenic stimulation, involves sequential steps and is time‐limited.

  • Particular genetic, proliferative or infectious diseases can alter the germinal cell functions.

Keywords: humoral immune response; lymphoid structures; B cells; T cells; germinal centre reaction; follicular dendritic cells

Figure 1.

Schematic representation of a germinal centre within a secondary lymph follicle located in the cortex of a lymph node. It is polarised: the dark zone close to the T‐dependent zone (paracortex) and the light zone on the subcapsular side. The light zone can further be subdivided into a lower and an upper part. The so‐called outer zone separates the germinal centre from the corona or mantle zone.

Figure 2.

Possible migration pathways of B cells in a human tonsil. B cells, after passing through (HEVs), come into contact with T cells and antigen‐presenting cells (1). When activated, they migrate to the dark zone (2) and become centroblasts, in the vicinity of (TBM) and FDC. Centroblasts mature to memory cells in the light zone (3). Centrocytes (3) can transform into centroblasts or, more probably, into small memory lymphocytes that leave the follicles through the corona (4). On encountering IL‐6 in the subcapsular area (5), these lymphocytes can become plasma cells (AFC) beneath the epithelium. Memory B cells migrate to the efferent lymphatics (6) and recirculate. Solid arrows, probable route; dotted arrows, hypothetical route. ? denotes hypothetical route to lymphatic vessels or the subepithelial area. Adapted from Heinen E, Kinet–Denoël C, Bosseloir A, Cormann N and Simar L (1990) B cell microenvironments during antigen stimulation In: Sorg C (ed.) Molecular Biology of B cells Developments pp. 24–60. Basel: Karger.

Figure 3.

Schematic representation of an activated FDC surrounded by numerous cytoplasmic extensions of lymphoid B‐ and T cells. The window summarises FDC main surface molecules, their connections and some of the factors released.



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How to Cite close
Thielen, Caroline, and Heinen, Ernst(Jun 2010) Germinal Centres. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000517.pub3]