Transcriptional pausing and stalling causes multiple clustered mutations by human activation-induced deaminase

FASEB J. 2009 Jan;23(1):34-44. doi: 10.1096/fj.08-115352. Epub 2008 Sep 4.


Transcription of the rearranged immunoglobulin gene and expression of the enzyme activation-induced deaminase (AID) are essential for somatic hypermutations of this gene during antibody maturation. While AID acts as a single-strand DNA-cytosine deaminase creating U . G mispairs that lead to mutations, the role played by transcription in this process is less clear. We have used in vitro transcription of the kan gene by the T7 RNA polymerase (RNAP) in the presence of AID and a genetic reversion assay for kanamycin-resistance to investigate the causes of multiple clustered mutations (MCMs) during somatic hypermutations. We find that, depending on transcription conditions, AID can cause single-base substitutions or MCMs. When wild-type RNAP is used for transcription at physiologically relevant concentrations of ribonucleoside triphosphates (NTPs), few MCMs are found. In contrast, slowing the rate of elongation by reducing the NTP concentration or using a mutant RNAP increases several-fold the percent of revertants containing MCMs. Arresting the elongation complexes by a quick removal of NTPs leads to formation of RNA-DNA hybrids (R-loops). Treatment of these structures with AID results in a high percentage of Kan(R) revertants with MCMs. Furthermore, selecting for transcription elongation complexes stalled near the codon that suffers mutations during acquisition of kanamycin-resistance results in an overwhelming majority of revertants with MCMs. These results show that if RNAP II pauses or stalls during transcription of immunoglobulin gene, AID is likely to promote MCMs. As changes in physiological conditions such as occurrence of certain DNA primary or secondary structures or DNA adducts are known to cause transcriptional pausing and stalling in mammalian cells, this process may cause MCMs during somatic hypermutation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cytidine Deaminase / genetics
  • Cytidine Deaminase / metabolism*
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Kanamycin Resistance / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • R Factors / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology*


  • DNA
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases
  • AICDA (activation-induced cytidine deaminase)
  • Cytidine Deaminase