To investigate why somatic mutations are spatially restricted to a region around the rearranged V(D)J immunoglobulin gene, we compared the distribution of mutations flanking murine V gene segments that had rearranged next to either proximal or distal J gene segments. 124 nucleotide substitutions, nine deletions, and two insertions were identified in 32,481 bp of DNA flanking the coding regions from 17 heavy and kappa light chain genes. Most of the mutations occurred within a 2-kb region centered around the V(D)J gene, regardless of which J gene segment was used, suggesting that the structural information for mutation is located in sequences around and within the V(D)J gene, and not in sequences downstream of the J gene segments. The majority of mutations were found within 300 bp of DNA flanking the 5' side of the V(D)J gene and 850 bp flanking the 3' side at a frequency of 0.8%, which was similar to the frequency in the coding region. The frequency of flanking mutations decreased as a function of distance from the gene. There was no evidence for hot spots in that every mutation was unique and occurred at a different position. No mutations were found upstream of the promoter region, suggesting that the promoter delimits a 5' boundary, which provides strong evidence that transcription is necessary to generate mutation. The 3' boundary was approximately 1 kb from the V(D)J gene and was not associated with a DNA sequence motif. Occasional mutations were located in the nuclear matrix association and enhancer regions. The pattern of substitutions suggests that there is discrimination between the two DNA strands during mutation, in that the four bases were mutated with different frequencies on each strand. The high frequency of mutations in the 3' flanking region and the uniqueness of each mutation argues against templated gene conversion as a mechanism for generating somatic diversity in murine V(D)J genes. Rather, the data support a model for random point mutations where the mechanism is linked to the transcriptional state of the gene.

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