Germinal centers (GCs) comprise lymphoid microenvironments where antigen-stimulated B cells undergo rapid proliferation and somatic hypermutation (SHM), resulting in the generation of B cells with high affinity for antigen. However, this process also generates B cell clones with low antigen affinity and with the potential for autoreactivity. It has been suggested that GC B cells with low antigen affinity and autoreactivity are eliminated via apoptosis and are rapidly cleared by tingible body macrophages (TBMus). Inefficient clearance of apoptotic cells (ACs) results in autoimmunity that is thought to be mediated by various intracellular molecules possessing danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs), including nuclear self-Ags. DAMPs can be released from ACs undergoing "secondary necrosis" due to a disruption in AC clearance within GCs. This review discusses the role and mechanisms associated with impaired clearance of ACs in GCs in loss of B cell tolerance leading to autoantibody production and the development of autoimmunity.
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