Antibody responses to protein antigens require recognition and processing of the antigen by B cells, followed by presentation of a peptide fragment of the antigen to helper T cells, leading to cooperation between the antigen-specific B and T lymphocytes. The helper function of T lymphocytes was discovered by experiments performed in the late 1960s, which showed that antibody responses required the presence of both bone marrow cells (now known to contain mature B lymphocytes) and thymus-derived cells (which were T lymphocytes). Subsequent experiments showed that only the bone marrow cells produced the antibody, but their activation required the thymic cells, which were called helper cells. These classic experimental studies were among the first formal proof of the importance of interactions between two completely different cell populations in the immune system. It took many years to establish that most helper T cells are CD4+CD8- lymphocytes that recognize peptide antigens presented by class II MHC molecules. One of the important accomplishments of immunology has been the elucidation of the mechanisms of T-B cell interactions and the actions of helper T cells in antibody responses.
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