Mimicking somatic hypermutation: affinity maturation of antibodies displayed on bacteriophage using a bacterial mutator strain

J Mol Biol. 1996 Jul 19;260(3):359-68. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1996.0406.


Human antibodies can now be isolated from antibody repertoires displayed on the surface of filamentous bacteriophage in a process that mimics the primary immune response. Here we have attempted to mimic the secondary response, the natural process of affinity maturation of antibodies occurring in germinal centres, by multiple cycles of random mutation and selection. Phage displaying a human antibody fragment recognising the hapten 2-phenyl-5-oxazolone were grown in a mutator strain of bacteria (Escherichia coli: mutD5) to generate a large repertoire of antibodies that should include the majority of possible single nucleotide point mutations. The repertoire of phage antibody mutants was then selected by binding to hapten. By multiple rounds of growth in the mutator strain, and increasingly stringent selection, we succeeded in isolating mutants with improved binding affinities; furthermore, the distribution of mutations and nucleotide substitution preferences strongly resembled those of somatic hypermutation. We then constructed a genealogical tree from the sequences of mutants taken at different rounds, and identified four sequentially acquired mutations that together improve the binding affinity of the antibody by a factor of 100-fold (from Kd 320 nM to 3.2 nM).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Recombinant
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Haptens
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Fragments / genetics*
  • Immunoglobulin Fragments / immunology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Oxazolone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Oxazolone / immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / immunology


  • DNA, Recombinant
  • Haptens
  • Immunoglobulin Fragments
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • immunoglobulin Fv
  • 2-phenyloxazolone
  • Oxazolone