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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Feb 13;98(4):1775-80.

A shark antibody heavy chain encoded by a nonsomatically rearranged VDJ is preferentially expressed in early development and is convergent with mammalian IgG.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Miami School of Medicine, P.O. Box 016960 (R-138), Miami, FL 33101, USA.


In most vertebrate embryos and neonates studied to date unique antigen receptors (antibodies and T cell receptors) are expressed that possess a limited immune repertoire. We have isolated a subclass of IgM, IgM(1gj), from the nurse shark Ginglymostoma cirratum that is preferentially expressed in neonates. The variable (V) region gene encoding the heavy (H) chain underwent V-D-J rearrangement in germ cells ("germline-joined"). Such H chain V genes were discovered over 10 years ago in sharks but until now were not shown to be expressed at appreciable levels; we find expression of H(1gj) in primary and secondary lymphoid tissues early in life, but in adults only in primary lymphoid tissue, which is identified in this work as the epigonal organ. H(1gj) chain associates covalently with light (L) chains and is most similar in sequence to IgM H chains, but like mammalian IgG has three rather than the four IgM constant domains; deletion of the ancestral IgM C2 domain thus defines both IgG and IgM(1gj). Because sharks are the members of the oldest vertebrate class known to possess antibodies, unique or specialized antibodies expressed early in ontogeny in sharks and other vertebrates were likely present at the inception of the adaptive immune system.

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