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J Mol Biol. 1996 Mar 15;256(5):813-17.

The imprint of somatic hypermutation on the repertoire of human germline V genes.

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MRC Centre for Protein Engineering, Cambridge, UK.


In the human immune system, antibodies with high affinities for antigen are created in two stages. A diverse primary repertoire of antibody structures is produced by the combinatorial rearrangement of germline V gene segments and antibodies are selected from this repertoire by binding to the antigen. Their affinities are then improved by somatic hypermutation and further rounds of selection. We have dissected the sequence diversity created at each stage in response to a wide range of antigens. In the primary repertoire, diversity is focused at the centre of the binding site. With somatic hypermutation, diversity spreads to regions at the periphery of the binding site that are highly conserved in the primary repertoire. We propose that evolution has favoured this complementarity as an efficient strategy for searching sequence space and that the germline V gene families evolved to exploit the diversity created by somatic hypermutation.

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