Mathematical Characterization of Private and Public Immune Receptor Sequences

Lucas Böttcher, Sascha Wald, Tom Chou

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Diverse T and B cell repertoires play an important role in mounting effective immune responses against a wide range of pathogens and malignant cells. The number of unique T and B cell clones is characterized by T and B cell receptors (TCRs and BCRs), respectively. Although receptor sequences are generated probabilistically by recombination processes, clinical studies found a high degree of sharing of TCRs and BCRs among different individuals. In this work, we use a general probabilistic model for T/B cell receptor clone abundances to define “publicness” or “privateness” and information-theoretic measures for comparing the frequency of sampled sequences observed across different individuals. We derive mathematical formulae to quantify the mean and the variances of clone richness and overlap. Our results can be used to evaluate the effect of different sampling protocols on abundances of clones within an individual as well as the commonality of clones across individuals. Using synthetic and empirical TCR amino acid sequence data, we perform simulations to study expected clonal commonalities across multiple individuals. Based on our formulae, we compare these simulated results with the analytically predicted mean and variances of the repertoire overlap. Complementing the results on simulated repertoires, we derive explicit expressions for the richness and its uncertainty for specific, single-parameter truncated power-law probability distributions. Finally, the information loss associated with grouping together certain receptor sequences, as is done in spectratyping, is also evaluated. Our approach can be, in principle, applied under more general and mechanistically realistic clone generation models.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102
Number of pages31
JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
Issue number10
Early online date14 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

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Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.


  • Overlap
  • Diversity
  • Sampling
  • T cell repertoire
  • Public/private clones


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