Background & Aims: Sera from patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) are characterized by the presence of antimitochondrial antibodies and elevated levels of immunoglobulin (Ig) M. We hypothesized that the increase in serum IgM is the result of chronic B-cell activation induced via the Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling pathway. Methods: We analyzed peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from patients with PBC and controls following incubation with CpG, a natural ligand for TLR9, and determined the basal and stimulated levels of intracellular IgM, the density of TLR9, and the contribution of specific B-cell subpopulations. Results: Our data demonstrate uniquely that in vitro incubation of PBMCs from PBC with CpG-B, but not CpG-A, led to a markedly high frequency of intracellular IgM-positive B cells, associated with high levels of synthesized IgM and identified to be a function of CD27+ memory B cells. This memory B-cell subset also expressed higher densities of TLR9 as compared with naive B cells. These results were not due to increased proliferation, as defined by 5-carboxyfluoresein diacetate succinimidyl ester labeling, or an increase in the life span of B cells, as defined by Bcl-2 expression. Conclusions: These findings for the first time identify a major role for innate immune mechanisms in the induction and persistence of abnormal humoral immune responses in PBC.
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