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Age-associated B cells are heterogeneous and dynamic drivers of autoimmunity in mice

Nickerson, KM;Smita, S;Hoehn, KB;Marinov, AD;Thomas, KB;Kos, JT;Yang, Y;Bastacky, SI;Watson, CT;Kleinstein, SH;Shlomchik, MJ;

Age-associated B cells (ABCs) are formed under inflammatory conditions and are considered a type of memory B cell (MBC) expressing the transcription factor T-bet. In SLE, ABC frequency is correlated with disease, and they are thought to be the source of autoantibody-secreting cells. However, in inflammatory conditions, whether autoreactive B cells can become resting MBCs is uncertain. Further, the phenotypic identity of ABCs and their relationship to other B cell subsets, such as plasmablasts, is unclear. Whether ABCs directly promote disease is untested. Here we report, in the MRL/lpr SLE model, unexpected heterogeneity among ABC-like cells for expression of the integrins CD11b and CD11c, T-bet, and memory or plasmablast markers. Transfer and labeling studies demonstrated that ABCs are dynamic, rapidly turning over. scRNA-seq identified B cell clones present in multiple subsets, revealing that ABCs can be plasmablast precursors or undergo cycles of reactivation. Deletion of CD11c-expressing B cells revealed a direct role for ABC-like B cells in lupus pathogenesis.