The efficient recognition of pathogens by the adaptive immune system relies on the diversity of receptors displayed at the surface of immune cells. T-cell receptor diversity results from an initial random DNA editing process, called VDJ recombination, followed by functional selection of cells according to the interaction of their surface receptors with self and foreign antigenic peptides. To quantify the effect of selection on the highly variable elements of the receptor, we apply a probabilistic maximum likelihood approach to the analysis of high-throughput sequence data from the β-chain of human T-cell receptors. We quantify selection factors for V and J gene choice, and for the length and amino-acid composition of the variable region. Our approach is necessary to disentangle the effects of selection from biases inherent in the recombination process. Inferred selection factors differ little between donors, or between naive and memory repertoires. The number of sequences shared between donors is well-predicted by the model, indicating a purely stochastic origin of such "public" sequences. We find a significant correlation between biases induced by VDJ recombination and our inferred selection factors, together with a reduction of diversity during selection. Both effects suggest that natural selection acting on the recombination process has anticipated the selection pressures experienced during somatic evolution.
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