B cell activation is a well known consequence of HIV-1 infection, and seropositive subjects show high numbers of spontaneously activated Ig-secreting cells in circulation. To better define the importance of the HIV-1-specific response in this phenomenon, we first studied whether in vitro spontaneous anti-HIV-1 antibody production was accompanied by reactivation of memory B lymphocytes. Unstimulated PBL from HIV-1-infected individuals with prior history of hepatitis B and/or EBV infection did not consistently show spontaneous in vitro synthesis of anti-hepatitis B core Ag or anti-EBV antibodies; in addition, PWM-induced synthesis of anti-hepatitis B virus and anti-EBV antibodies was decreased compared to HIV-1-seronegative subjects. Moreover, in comparing the frequencies of activated HIV-1-specific B cell precursors and activated Ig-secreting precursors in limiting dilution experiments, a sizable fraction (20 to 40%) of circulating cells spontaneously secreting Ig produced antibody against HIV-1 determinants. The ratio between the two frequencies fitted in very well with the amount of Ig removed from unstimulated culture supernatants after HIV-1-specific antibody absorption with solid-phase HIV-1. These findings indicate that B cell activation during HIV-1 infection is mainly oriented toward a specific response to HIV-1 determinants; the possible relevance of this phenomenon to lymphomagenesis in AIDS patients is discussed.
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