Somatic hypermutation (SHM) is necessary for Ab diversification and involves error-prone DNA repair of activation-induced cytidine deaminase–induced lesions in germinal center (GC) B cells but can also cause genomic instability. GC B cells express low levels of the DNA repair protein apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) endonuclease (APE)1 and high levels of its homolog APE2. Reduced SHM in APE2-deficient mice suggests that APE2 promotes SHM, but these GC B cells also exhibit reduced proliferation that could impact mutation frequency. In this study, we test the hypothesis that APE2 promotes and APE1 suppresses SHM. We show how APE1/APE2 expression changes in primary murine spleen B cells during activation, impacting both SHM and class-switch recombination (CSR). High levels of both APE1 and APE2 early after activation promote CSR. However, after 2 d, APE1 levels decrease steadily with each cell division, even with repeated stimulation, whereas APE2 levels increase with each stimulation. When GC-level APE1/APE2 expression was engineered by reducing APE1 genetically (apex1+/−) and overexpressing APE2, bona fide activation-induced cytidine deaminase–dependent VDJH4 intron SHM became detectable in primary B cell cultures. The C terminus of APE2 that interacts with proliferating cell nuclear Ag promotes SHM and CSR, although its ATR-Chk1–interacting Zf-GRF domain is not required. However, APE2 does not increase mutations unless APE1 is reduced. Although APE1 promotes CSR, it suppresses SHM, suggesting that downregulation of APE1 in the GC is required for SHM. Genome-wide expression data compare GC and cultured B cells and new models depict how APE1 and APE2 expression and protein interactions change during B cell activation and affect the balance between accurate and error-prone repair during CSR and SHM.

You do not currently have access to this content.