Phylogenetic diversification of immunoglobulin genes and the antibody repertoire

G. W. Litman, J. P. Rast, M. J. Shamblott, R. N. Haire, M. Hulst, W. Roess, R. T. Litman, K. R. Hinds-Frey, A. Zilch, C. T. Amemiya

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110 Scopus citations


Immunoglobulins are encoded by a large multigene system that undergoes somatic rearrangement and additional genetic change during the development of immunoglobulin-producing cells. Inducible antibody and antibody-like responses are found in all vertebrates. However, immunoglobulin possessing disulfide-bonded heavy and light chains and domain-type organization has been described only in representatives of the jawed vertebrates. High degrees of nucleotide and predicted amino acid sequence identity are evident when the segmental elements that constitute the immunoglobulin gene loci in phylogenetically divergent vertebrates are compared. However, the organization of gene loci and the manner in which the independent elements recombine (and diversify) vary markedly among different taxa. One striking pattern of gene organization is the 'cluster type' that appears to be restricted to the chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fishes) and limits segmental rearrangement to closely linked elements. This type of gene organization is associated with both heavy- and light-chain gene loci. In some cases, the clusters are 'joined' or 'partially joined' in the germ line, in effect predetermining or partially predetermining, respectively, the encoded specificities (the assumption being that these are expressed) of the individual loci. By relating the sequences of transcribed gene products to their respective germ-line genes, it is evident that, in some cases, joined- type genes are expressed. This raises a question about the existence and/or nature of allelic exclusion in these species. The extensive variation in gene organization found throughout the vertebrate species may relate directly to the role of intersegmental (V mutually implies D mutually implies J) distances in the commitment of the individual antibody-producing cell to a particular genetic specificity. Thus, the evolution of this locus, perhaps more so than that of others, may reflect the interrelationships between genetic organization and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-72
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1993


  • diversity
  • evolution
  • gene
  • gene rearrangement
  • immunoglobulin
  • segmental organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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