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Immunol Cell Biol. 1998 Aug;76(4):373-81.

Predicted and inferred waiting times for key mutations in the germinal centre reaction: evidence for stochasticity in selection.

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Department of Statistics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695-8203, USA.


The germinal centre reaction (GCR) is a fundamental component of the immune response to T-dependent antigens, during which the immunoglobulin (Ig) genes of B cells experience somatic hypermutation and selection. A maximum-likelihood method on DNA sequence data from 16 individual germinal centres was used to infer that the waiting time for position 33 key (high-affinity) mutations in the anti-(4-hydroxy-3-nitrophenyl) acetyl (NP) response is 8.3 days. This is in marked contrast to the prediction of a key mutant each generation (waiting time about 1/3 day) obtained from a simple model and parameters available in the literature. This disagreement is resolved in part by the finding that the targeted base occurs in a cold spot for hypermutation, raising the predicted waiting time to 2.3 days, although this value remains significantly lower than that inferred from the sequence data. It is proposed that the remaining disparity is attributable to some further stochastic process in the GCR: many early key mutations arise but fail to 'take root' within the GC, either due to emigration or failure of cognate T cell/B cell interaction. Furthermore, it is argued that the frequency with which position 33 mutations are found in secondary responses to NP indicates the presence of selection after the GCR.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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