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Immunology. 2001 Jun;103(2):179-87.

Third complementarity-determining region of mutated VH immunoglobulin genes contains shorter V, D, J, P, and N components than non-mutated genes.

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Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD, USA.


The third complementarity-determining region (CDR3) of immunoglobulin variable genes for the heavy chain (VH) has been shown to be shorter in length in hypermutated antibodies than in non-hypermutated antibodies. To determine which components of CDR3 contribute to the shorter length, and if there is an effect of age on the length, we analysed 235 cDNA clones from human peripheral blood of VH6 genes rearranged to immunoglobulin M (IgM) constant genes. There was similar use of diversity (D) and joining (JH) gene segments between clones from young and old donors, and there was similar use of D segments among the mutated and non-mutated heavy chains. However, in the mutated heavy chains, there was increased use of shorter JH4 segments and decreased use of longer JH6 segments compared to the non-mutated proteins. The overall length of CDR3 did not change with age within the mutated and non-mutated categories, but was significantly shorter by three amino acids in the mutated clones compared to the non-mutated clones. Analyses of the individual components that comprise CDR3 indicated that they were all shorter in the mutated clones. Thus, there were more nucleotides deleted from the ends of VH, D, and JH gene segments, and fewer P and N nucleotides added. The results suggest that B cells bearing immunoglobulin receptors with shorter CDR3s have been selected for binding to antigen. A smaller CDR3 may allow room in the antibody binding pocket for antigen to interact with CDRs 1 and 2 as well, so that as the VDJ gene undergoes hypermutation, substitutions in all three CDRs can further contribute to the binding energy.

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