Tumor cell lines from six typical cases of endemic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome-positive Burkitt's lymphoma (BL) have been investigated for usage and mutational pattern of Ig VH genes. The neoplastic cells all had a t(8;14) (q24;q32) translocation involving the c-myc protooncogene. The VH genes were derived from VH1, VH3 and VH4, and both the IgM-positive (four cases) and IgG-positive (two cases) were extensively mutated from germline sequence. In two cases, early and late passage tumor cells were available, and the VH nucleotide sequences were identical, indicating that mutations had not accumulated in vitro. In a further case, there was evidence of sequence heterogeneity, which appeared to have been generated in vivo, indicating that the tumor cell VH gene was able to undergo posttranslocation somatic hypermutation. Analysis of the relatively nonpolymorphic VH4 genes for the pattern of replacement or silent mutations did not show a role for antigen selection in the expressed sequences.

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