What happens to the Human Immune Repertoire over time?

Last week during the group meeting we talked about a pre-print publication from the Ippolito group in Austin TX (here). The authors were monitoring the antibody repertoire from Bone Marrow Plasma Cells (80% of circulating abs) over a period of 6.5 years. For comparison they have monitored another individual over the period of 2.3 years. In a nutshell, the paper is like Picture 1 — just with antibodies

This is what the paper talks about in a nutshell. How the antibody repertoire looks like taken at different timepoints in an individual's lifetime.

This is what the paper talks about in a nutshell. How the antibody repertoire looks like taken at different timepoints in an individual’s lifetime.

.

The main question that they aimed to answer was: ‘Is the Human Antibody repertoire stable over time‘? It is plausible to think that there should be some ‘ground distribution’ of antibodies that are present over time which act as a default safety net. However we know that the antibody makeup can change radically especially when challenged by antigen. Therefore, it is interesting to ask, does the immune repertoire maintain a fairly stable distribution or not?

Firstly, it is necessary to define what we consider a stable distribution of the human antibody repertoire. The antibodies undergo the VDJ recombination as well as Somatic Hypermutation, meaning that the >10^10 estimated antibodies that a human is capable of producing have a very wide possible variation. In this publication the authors mostly focused on addressing this question by looking at how the usage of possible V, D and J genes and their combinations changes over time.

Seven snapshots of the immune repertoire were taken from the individual monitored over 6.5 years and two from the individual monitored over 2.3 years. Looking at the usage of the V, D and J genes over time, it appears that the proportion in each of the seven time points appears quite stable (Pic 2). Authors claim similar result looking at the combinations.  This would suggest that our antibody repertoire is biased to sample ‘similar’ antibodies over time. These frequencies were compared to the individual who was sampled over the period of 2.3 years and it appears that the differences might not be great between the two.

How the frequencies of V, D  and J genes change (not) over 6.5 years in a single individual

How the frequencies of V, D and J genes change (not) over 6.5 years in a single individual

It is a very interesting study which hints that we (humans) might be sampling the antibodies from a biased distribution — meaning that our bodies might have developed a well-defined safety net which is capable of raising an antibody towards an arbitrary antigen. It is an interesting starting point and to further check this hypothesis, it would be necessary to carry out such a study on multiple individuals (as a minimum to see if there are really no differences between us — which would at the same time hint that the repertoire do not change over time).