AQA AS Biology

Revision Notes

2.5.7 The B lymphocyte Response

The B lymphocyte Response

B-lymphocytes and the humoral immune response

  • B-lymphocytes (B cells) remain in the bone marrow until they are mature and then spread through the body, concentrating in lymph nodes and the spleen
  • Millions of types of B-lymphocyte cells are produced within us because as they mature the genes coding for antibodies are changed to code for different antibodies
  • Once mature, each type of B-lymphocyte cell can make one type of antibody molecule
  • At this stage, the antibody molecules do not leave the B-lymphocyte cell but remain in the cell surface membrane
  • Part of each antibody molecule forms a glycoprotein receptor that can combine specifically with one type of antigen
  • If that antigen enters the body, B-lymphocyte cells with the correct cell surface receptors will be able to recognise it and bind to it (clonal selection)
  • These specific B-lymphocytes divide repeatedly by mitosis (clonal expansion) and differentiate into two main types of cell:
    • Plasma cells
    • Memory cells
  • These two cell types each have a specific function

The maturation of B lymphocytes, downloadable AS & A Level Biology revision notes

The maturation of B-lymphocytes – by the time a child is born, it will have millions of different types of B-lymphocytes, each with a specific antibody receptor

Primary immune response

  • When an antigen enters the body for the first time, the small numbers of B-lymphocytes with receptors complementary to that antigen are stimulated to divide by mitosis
    • This is known as clonal selection
  • As these clones divide repeatedly by mitosis (the clonal expansion stage) the result is large numbers of identical B-lymphocytes being produced over a few weeks
  • Some of these B-lymphocytes become plasma cells that secrete lots of antibody molecules (specific to the antigen) into the blood, lymph or linings of the lungs and the gut
  • These plasma cells are short-lived (their numbers drop off after several weeks) but the antibodies they have secreted stay in the blood for a longer time
  • The other B-lymphocytes become memory cells that remain circulating in the blood for a long time
  • This response to a newly encountered pathogen is relatively slow


Alistair graduated from Oxford University in 2014 with a degree in Biological Sciences. He has taught GCSE/IGCSE Biology, as well as Biology and Environmental Systems & Societies for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. While teaching in Oxford, Alistair completed his MA Education as Head of Department for Environmental Systems and Societies.

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