Antibody variable (V) regions that initially differ from one another by only single amino acid residues at VH-D and D-JH segment junctions (termed canonical V regions) can be elicited in strain A/J mice by three different haptens. Among such V regions an amino acid substitution due to somatic mutation is recurrently observed at VH CDR2 position 58, regardless of which of these haptens is used for immunization. This substitution confers upon a canonical V region a generic increase in affinity for all the haptens. Conversely, the type of amino acid substitution at VH position 59 resulting from somatic mutation that is recurrently observed among such V regions changes with the eliciting hapten, in a manner that correlates directly with the cognate affinity increases (or decreases) for hapten conferred by the observed substitutions. This small subregion of VH CDR2 therefore plays a major role in determining both affinity and specificity for antigen. The data confirm that affinity for antigen is of pivotal importance in determining the degree of selection of different mutant forms of a V region. Moreover, during an immune response a sufficiently diverse mutant repertoire can be generated from a single canonical V region to allow adaptation to increase affinity for three different epitopes.

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