Germinal center

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Germinal centres (GC) are an important part of the humoral immune response. They develop dynamically after the activation of B-cells by T-dependent antigen. Histologically, the GCs describe microscopically distinguishable parts in lymphoid tissues.


1. Activated B-cells migrate into the follicular system and begin monoclonal expansion in the environment of follicular dendritic cells (FDC).

2. After three days of expansion the B cells mutate their antibody-encoding DNA and thus generate a diversity of clones in the germinal centre. This also involves deletions, insertions and recombination of the V, D, J genes.

3. Upon some unidentified stimulus from the FDC, the B cells start to expose their antibody to their surface and in this stage are referred to as centrocytes. The centrocytes are in a state of activated apoptosis and compete for survival signals from FDCs that present the antigen. This rescue process is believed to be dependent on the affinity of the antibody to the antigen.

4. The functional B-cells have then to interact with helper T cells to get final differentiation signals. This also involves isotype switching for example from IgM to IgG. The interaction with T cells is believed to prevent the generation of autoreactive antibodies.[1]

5. The B cells become either a plasma cell spreading antibodies or a memory B cell that will be activated in subsequent contacts with the same antigen. They may also restart the whole process of proliferation, mutation and selection according to the recycling hypothesis.

Morphology at different stages

The morphology of GCs is very specific and shows properties which are characteristic for different stages of the reaction.

  • In an early state of the reaction a network of FDCs is fully filled with proliferating B cells.
  • Later at day 4 of the reaction GCs show a separation of two zones, the dark and the light zone.[2] The former still contains dominantly proliferating cells while the latter one is the area of B cells selection.
  • These zones dissolve after 10 days of GC development which ends after about 3 weeks.


  1. Thorbecke GJ, Amin AR, Tsiagbe VK (1994). "Biology of germinal centers in lymphoid tissue". FASEB. 8: 832–840. PMID 8070632.
  2. Meyer-Hermann ME (2002). "A Mathematical Model for the Germinal Center Morphology and Affinity Maturation". J. theor. Biol. 216: 273–300. PMID 12183119.

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