Analyses of somatic hypermutation (SHM) patterns in B cell immunoglobulin (Ig) sequences contribute to our basic understanding of adaptive immunity, and have broad applications not only for understanding the immune response to pathogens, but also to determining the role of SHM in autoimmunity and B cell cancers. Although stochastic, SHM displays intrinsic biases that can confound statistical analysis, especially when combined with the particular codon usage and base composition in Ig sequences. Analysis of B cell clonal expansion, diversification, and selection processes thus critically depends on an accurate background model for SHM micro-sequence targeting (i.e., hot/cold-spots) and nucleotide substitution. Existing models are based on small numbers of sequences/mutations, in part because they depend on data from non-coding regions or non-functional sequences to remove the confounding influences of selection. Here, we combine high-throughput Ig sequencing with new computational analysis methods to produce improved models of SHM targeting and substitution that are based only on synonymous mutations, and are thus independent of selection. The resulting "S5F" models are based on 806,860 Synonymous mutations in 5-mer motifs from 1,145,182 Functional sequences and account for dependencies on the adjacent four nucleotides (two bases upstream and downstream of the mutation). The estimated profiles can explain almost half of the variance in observed mutation patterns, and clearly show that both mutation targeting and substitution are significantly influenced by neighboring bases. While mutability and substitution profiles were highly conserved across individuals, the variability across motifs was found to be much larger than previously estimated. The model and method source code are made available at http://clip.med.yale.edu/SHM.
Keywords: AID; B cell; affinity maturation; immunoglobulin; mutability; somatic hypermutation; substitution; targeting.