Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2017 07 26() pii 10.1073/pnas.1709203114
Variable regions of Ig chains provide the antigen recognition portion of B-cell receptors and derivative antibodies. Ig heavy-chain variable region exons are assembled developmentally from V, D, J gene segments. Each variable region contains three antigen-contacting complementarity-determining regions (CDRs), with CDR1 and CDR2 encoded by the V segment and CDR3 encoded by the V(D)J junction region. Antigen-stimulated germinal center (GC) B cells undergo somatic hypermutation (SHM) of V(D)J exons followed by selection for SHMs that increase antigen-binding affinity. Some HIV-1-infected human subjects develop broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs), such as the potent VRC01-class bnAbs, that neutralize diverse HIV-1 strains. Mature VRC01-class bnAbs, including VRC-PG04, accumulate very high SHM levels, a property that hinders development of vaccine strategies to elicit them. Because many VRC01-class bnAb SHMs are not required for broad neutralization, high overall SHM may be required to achieve certain functional SHMs. To elucidate such requirements, we used a V(D)J passenger allele system to assay, in mouse GC B cells, sequence-intrinsic SHM-targeting rates of nucleotides across substrates representing maturation stages of human VRC-PG04. We identify rate-limiting SHM positions for VRC-PG04 maturation, as well as SHM hotspots and intrinsically frequent deletions associated with SHM. We find that mature VRC-PG04 has low SHM capability due to hotspot saturation but also demonstrate that generation of new SHM hotspots and saturation of existing hotspot regions (e.g., CDR3) does not majorly influence intrinsic SHM in unmutated portions of VRC-PG04 progenitor sequences. We discuss implications of our findings for bnAb affinity maturation mechanisms.