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Immunol Rev. 1998 Apr;162:133-41.

Immunoglobulin gene hypermutation in germinal centers is independent of the RAG-1 V(D)J recombinase.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore 21201-1559, USA.


Antigen-driven somatic hypermutation in immunoglobulin genes coupled with stringent selection leads to affinity maturation in the B-lymphocyte populations present in germinal centers. To date, no gene(s) has been identified that drives the hypermutation process. The site-specific recombination of antigen-receptor gene segments in T and B lymphocytes is dependent on the expression of two recombination activating genes, RAG-1 and RAG-2. The RAG-1 and RAG-2 proteins are essential for the cleavage of DNA at highly conserved recombination signals to make double-strand breaks and their expression is sufficient to confer V(D)J recombination activity to non-lymphoid cells. Until very recently, expression of the V(D)J recombinase in adults was believed to be restricted to sites of primary lymphogenesis. However, several laboratories have now demonstrated expression of RAG-1 and RAG-2 and active V-to-(D)J recombination in germinal center B cells. This observation of active recombinase in germinal centers raises the issue of RAG-mediated nuclease activity as a component of V(D)J hypermutation. Here, we show that a transgenic kappa-light chain gene in a RAG-1-/- genetic background can acquire high frequencies of mutations. Thus, the RAG-1 protein is not essential for the machinery of immunoglobulin hypermutation. The genetic approaches to identifying the genes necessary for somatic hypermutation will require further studies on DNA-repair and immunodeficient models.

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