Immunoglobulin genes experience Darwinian evolution twice. In addition to the germline evolution all genes experience, immunoglobulins are subjected, upon exposure to antigen, to somatic hypermutation. This is accompanied by selection for high affinity to the eliciting antigen and frequently results in a significant increase in the specificity of the responding population. The hypermutation mechanism displays a strong sequence specificity. Thus arises the opportunity to manipulate codon bias in a site-specific manner so as to direct hypermutation to those parts of the gene that encode the antigen-binding portions of the molecule and away from those that encode the structurally conserved regions. This segregation of mutability would clearly be advantageous; it would enhance the generation of potentially useful variants while keeping mutational loss to acceptably low levels. But it is not clear that the advantage gained would be large enough to produce a measurable effect within the background stochasticity of the evolutionary process. I have performed a pair of statistical tests to determine whether site-specific codon bias in human immunoglobulin genes is correlated with the sequence specificity of the somatic mutation mechanism. The sequence specificity of the mutator was determined by analysis of a database of published immunoglobulin intron sequences that had experienced somatic mutation but not selection. The site-specific codon bias was determined by analysis of published sequences of human germline immunoglobulin V genes. Both tests strongly suggest that evolution has acted to enhance the plasticity of immunoglobulin genes under somatic hypermutation.
Amino Acids • Binding Sites • Codon* • Genetic Variation* • Humans • Immunoglobulin Variable Region • Immunoglobulins • Linear Models • Models, Genetic* • Molecular Sequence Data • Mutation* • Selection, Genetic • Sequence Alignment • genetics • physiology*