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Mol Cell Biol. 1996 Feb;16(2):609-18.

T-cell receptor alpha locus V(D)J recombination by-products are abundant in thymocytes and mature T cells.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8011, USA.


In addition to the assembled coding regions of immunoglobulin and T-cell receptor (TCR) genes, the V(D)J recombination reaction can in principle generate three types of by-products in normal developing lymphocytes: broken DNA molecules that terminate in a recombination signal sequence or a coding region (termed signal or coding end molecules, respectively) and DNA molecules containing fused recombination signal sequences (termed reciprocal products). Using a quantitative Southern blot analysis of the murine TCR alpha locus, we demonstrate that substantial amounts of signal end molecules and reciprocal products, but not coding end molecules, exist in thymocytes, while peripheral T cells contain substantial amounts of reciprocal products. At the 5' end of the J alpha locus, 20% of thymus DNA exists as signal end molecules. An additional 30 to 40% of the TCR alpha/delta locus exists as remarkably stable reciprocal products throughout T-cell development, with the consequence that the TCR C delta region is substantially retained in alpha beta committed T cells. The disappearance of the broken DNA molecules occurs in the same developmental transition as termination of expression of the recombination activating genes, RAG-1 and RAG-2. These findings raise important questions concerning the mechanism of V(D)J recombination and the maintenance of genome integrity during lymphoid development.

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