|MadSci Network: Immunology|
Excellent question! B cells have cell surface antibody that they use to recognize antigens such as viruses (see Figure, which is from “Immunology, Fifth Edition, by Goldsby, et al.). After contact with the virus, the B cell can divide and become either a plasma cell, which secretes antibodies to neutralize the virus, or a memory cell, which gives you better protection in case you get infected again by the same virus. Two important things: 1) Each B cell has only one “specificity” meaning that all its cell surface antibodies recognize the same antigen. 2) You make millions of B cells a day and each one can potentially recognize a different antigen. So when you get infected with a virus, only those B cells that can bind to the virus become plasma cells and memory B cells. This is called clonal selection, because the antigen (virus) selects the B cells making the right antibody to respond.
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