During the adaptive immune response, antigen challenge triggers a million-fold increase in mutation rates in the variable-region antibody genes. The frequency of mutation is causally and directly linked to transcription, which provides ssDNA and drives supercoiling that stabilizes secondary structures containing unpaired, intrinsically mutable bases. Simulation analysis of transcription in VH5 reveals a dominant 65 nt secondary structure in the non-transcribed strand containing six sites of mutable ssDNA that have also been identified independently in human B cell lines and in primary mouse B cells. This dominant structure inter-converts briefly with less stable structures and is formed repeatedly during transcription, due to periodic pauses and backtracking. In effect, this creates a stable yet dynamic "mutability platform" consisting of ever-changing patterns of unpaired bases that are simultaneously exposed and therefore able to coordinate mutagenesis. Such a complex of secondary structures may be the source of ssDNA for enzyme-based diversification, which ultimately results in high affinity antibodies.
- Secondary structures
- Somatic hypermutation
- Transcription-directed mutagenesis