To date, there has been no systematic study of the process of affinity maturation of human antibodies. We therefore sequenced the variable region genes (V genes) of 14 human monoclonal antibodies specific for the erythrocyte Rh(D) alloantigen and determined the germline gene segments of origin and extent of somatic hypermutation. These data were correlated with determinations of antibody affinity. The four IgM antibodies (low affinity) appear to be derived from two germline heavy chain variable region gene segments and one or two germline light chain variable region gene segments and were not extensively mutated. The 10 IgG antibodies (higher affinity) appear to be derived from somatic hypermutation of these V gene segments and by use of new V gene segments or V gene segment combinations (repertoire shift). Affinity generally increased with increasing somatic hypermutation; on average, there were 8.9 point mutations in the V gene segments of the four IgM antibodies (Ka = 1-4 x 10(7)/M-1) compared with 19 point mutations in the V gene segments of the 10 IgG antibodies. The four highest affinity antibodies (Ka = 0.9-3 x 10(9)/M-1) averaged 25.5 point mutations. The use of repertoire shift and somatic hypermutation in affinity maturation of human alloantibodies is similar to data obtained in inbred mice immunized with haptens.
J M Bye, C Carter, Y Cui, B D Gorick, S Songsivilai, G Winter, N C Hughes-Jones, J D Marks