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Mol Cell Biol. 2012 May;32(10):2030-40. doi: 10.1128/MCB.06722-11. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Nucleosome stability dramatically impacts the targeting of somatic hypermutation.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.


Somatic hypermutation (SHM) of immunoglobulin (Ig) genes is initiated by the activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID). However, the influence of chromatin on SHM remains enigmatic. Our previous cell-free studies indicated that AID cannot access nucleosomal DNA in the absence of transcription. We have now investigated the influence of nucleosome stability on mutability in vivo. We introduced two copies of a high-affinity nucleosome positioning sequence (MP2) into a variable Ig gene region to assess its impact on SHM in vivo. The MP2 sequence significantly reduces the mutation frequency throughout the nucleosome, and especially near its center, despite proportions of AID hot spots similar to those in Ig genes. A weak positioning sequence (M5) was designed based on rules deduced from published whole-genome analyses. Replacement of MP2 with M5 resulted in much higher mutation rates throughout the nucleosome. This indicates that both nucleosome stability and positioning significantly influence the SHM pattern. We postulate that, unlike RNA polymerase, AID has reduced access to stable nucleosomes. This study outlines the limits of nucleosome positioning for SHM of Ig genes and suggests that stable nucleosomes may need to be disassembled for access of AID. Possibly the variable regions of Ig genes have evolved for low nucleosome stability to enhance access to AID, DNA repair factors, and error-prone polymerases and, hence, to maximize variability.

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