Int. J. Dev. Biol. 42: 977 - 982 (1998)
© UPV/EHU Press

Immunoglobulin transgenes as targets for somatic hypermutation.

U Storb, A Peters, E Klotz, N Kim, H M Shen, J Hackett, B Rogerson, R O'Brien and T E Martin

Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA. stor@midway.uchicago.edu

ABSTRACT This review describes studies on somatic hypermutation of immunoglobulin genes that were started in the mid-80s in collaboration with Ralph Brinster. Almost all of the experiments were carried out using Ig transgenes as targets for the somatic mutation mechanism. Ig transgenes can be very good targets of somatic mutation, despite many different transgene integration sites. Thus, the required cis-acting elements must be present within the approximately 10 kb of the transgene. Only the Ig variable region and its proximate flanks are mutated, not the constant region in unmanipulated sequences. Several Ig gene enhancers are permissive for somatic mutation and they do not have to be associated with the Ig promoter they normally interact with. However, the mutation process does seem to be specific for Ig genes. No mutations were found in several housekeeping genes isolated from cells that had very high levels of somatic hypermutation of their Ig genes. This suggests that the Ig enhancers provide the lg gene specificity. An exception is the Bcl-6 gene, encoding a transcription factor, which was found to be mutated in normal human memory B cells. When the transcriptional promoter that is located upstream of the variable region is duplicated upstream of the constant region, this region is mutated as well. This suggests a transcription coupled model in which a mutator factor associates with the RNA polymerase at the initiation of transcription, travels with the polymerase during elongation, and causes mutations during polymerase pausing. Our recent data with an artificial substrate for somatic mutation suggest that the mutations are increased by increased stability of the secondary structures in the nascent RNA, and the specific nucleotides that are mutated are due to preferences of a mutator factor.