The T15 heavy chain variable region (VH) gene family in BALB/c mice includes four elements each greater than 88% homologous with the other. One of these elements, V1, encodes virtually all of the VH regions in BALB/c antiphosphorylcholine antibodies, while another element, V3, is a pseudogene and cannot be transcribed or translated. We have examined the structural features of this VH gene family in other mouse strains and, in particular, have cloned and sequenced the alleles of these gene segments present in B10.P mice. Each of the four B10.P sequences can be matched with its allelic counterpart in BALB/c mice. This represents the first successful analysis of allelism in antibody variable region gene segments. The V1B10.P allele, like its BALB/c counterpart, encodes most of the known phosphorylcholine binding heavy chains from C37BL/6 mice. Similarly, the V3B10.P gene segment is a pseudogene like V3BALB, although only two of four abnormalities present in the BALB/c allele are also present in the B10.P allele. Careful analysis of the specific substitutions observed in the T15 VH gene family suggests that environmental selection for functional combining regions contributes significantly to the pattern of variation in the germline antibody repertoire. In addition, evidence is presented supporting frequent gene conversion events in the divergence of antibody genes.

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