Trade-offs in antibody repertoires to complex antigens.


Pathogens vary in their antigenic complexity. While some pathogens such as measles present a few relatively invariant targets to the immune system, others such as malaria display considerable antigenic diversity. How the immune response copes in the presence of multiple antigens, and whether a trade-off exists between the breadth and efficacy of antibody (Ab)-mediated immune responses, are unsolved problems. We present a theoretical model of affinity maturation of B-cell receptors (BCRs) during a primary infection and examine how variation in the number of accessible antigenic sites alters the Ab repertoire. Naive B cells with randomly generated receptor sequences initiate the germinal centre (GC) reaction. The binding affinity of a BCR to an antigen is quantified via a genotype-phenotype map, based on a random energy landscape, that combines local and distant interactions between residues. In the presence of numerous antigens or epitopes, B-cell clones with different specificities compete for stimulation during rounds of mutation within GCs. We find that the availability of many epitopes reduces the affinity and relative breadth of the Ab repertoire. Despite the stochasticity of somatic hypermutation, patterns of immunodominance are strongly shaped by chance selection of naive B cells with specificities for particular epitopes. Our model provides a mechanistic basis for the diversity of Ab repertoires and the evolutionary advantage of antigenically complex pathogens.

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