The ability of human VH3 immunoglobulins (Ig) to bind to staphylococcal protein A (SPA) via their Fab region is analogous to the binding of bacterial superantigens to T cell receptors. The present report establishes the structural basis for the interaction of SPA and VH3 Ig. We have studied a panel of 27 human monoclonal IgM that were derived from fetal B lymphocytes. As such, these IgM were expected to be encoded by unmutated germline genes. Binding to SPA in ELISA occurred with 15 of 15 VH3 IgM, but none of 12 IgM from the VH1, VH4, VH5, or VH6 families. The VH sequences of the 27 IgM were derived from 20 distinct VH elements, including 11 from the VH3 family. Use of D, JH, and CL genes was similar among VH3 and non-VH3 IgM. A comparison of the corresponding VH protein sequences, and those of previously studied IgM, identified a probable site for SPA binding that includes VH3 residues in framework region 3 (FR3), and perhaps FR1 and 3' complementary determining region 2. The results thus demonstrate that among human IgM, specificity for SPA is encoded by at least 11 different VH3 germline genes. Furthermore, like the T cell superantigens, SPA likely binds to residues in the VH framework region, outside the classical antigen-binding site of the hypervariable loops.

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