Basement membrane proteins are targeted in a variety of pathologic autoimmune responses, yet little is known regarding the origins and regulation of this subset of pathogenic lymphocytes. To examine the generation and fate of B cells reactive with a matrix autoantigen, nonautoimmune C57BL/6 mice were rendered transgenic for a nephrotropic lupus anti-laminin immunoglobulin (Ig) H chain, termed LamH-Cμ. We previously reported recovery of two distinct phenotypes among LamH-Cμ-transgenic mice: progeny of founders M6 and M29 contained abundant transgene-expressing B cells but little anti-laminin Ig, whereas spontaneous autoreactivity was readily recovered from the M7 lineage that expressed minimal B-cell mIgM. To explore the spectrum of autoreactivity generated in vivo by different LamH-Cμ-endogenous L-chain combinations, we determined in vitro and in vivo antigen reactivity and L-chain V-region sequences of 17 LamH-Cμ-transgenic anti-laminin Igs. The results reveal a heterogeneous population of anti-laminin Igs with different fine specificities encoded by diverse endogenous L chains, encompassing nine different Vk gene families, 11 Vk genes, and three Jk genes. Many of the L chains are identical to known or putative unmutated germline Vk genes used to encode Igs reactive with self and foreign antigens in nonautoimmune and genetically autoimmune-prone mouse strains. These observations confirm that the LamH-Cμ H chain plays a dominant role in determining anti-laminin reactivity, and indicate that nonautoimmune B6 mice are fully capable of generating a diverse pool of basement-membrane-reactive B cells using unmutated Ig genes. When interpreted in the context of the divergent M61M29 and M7 transgenic mouse phenotypes, our findings further suggest that these matrix-reactive lymphocytes are not spontaneously activated in vivo under normal circumstances.
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