The hapten (4-hydroxy-3-nitrophenyl)acetyl (NP), when conjugated to carrier proteins, elicits a characteristic idiotypic response (NPb) in C57BL/6 mice. The response can be divided serologically into two distinct NPb-positive groups of antibodies. The first group consists of four crossreacting subgroups (I-IV), the second of two subgroups (V, VI). Some antibodies of subgroups I and II have been shown to express the unmutated heavy chain variable region (VH) germline gene 186.2. Antibodies of subgroups V and VI crossreact extensively with the NPa-positive antibodies of BALB/c mice. We sequenced heavy chain complementary DNA from eight hybridomas producing anti-NP antibodies. Six of these belong to subgroups V and VI, and two were NPa-positive hybridomas of BALB/c origin. All sequences were homologous to each other, and differed by approximately 80 basepairs from the 186.2 C57BL/6 germline VH gene. From our sequence and Southern blot analyses we suggest: (a) the NPb idiotypic response is the product of several VH germline genes, (b) some of these genes are very homologous to the gene coding for the BALB/c NPa idiotype, and might represent the C57BL/6 allelic forms of this gene, (c) the diversity regions of NPb and NPa-positive antibodies are diverse in length and amino acid composition, except for the first residue, which is always tyrosine, (d) all four heavy chain joining region gene segments are expressed without mutation. We discuss our data in terms of diversity in the germline VH gene repertoire, as well as diversity created by gene segment-joining events and somatic mutation.

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