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Immunol Rev. 2004 Aug;200:165-81.

How to keep V(D)J recombination under control.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Breaking apart chromosomes is not a matter to be taken lightly. The possible negative outcomes are obvious: loss of information, unstable chromosomes, chromosomal translocations, tumorigenesis, or cell death. Utilizing DNA rearrangement to generate the desired diversity in the antigen receptor loci is a risky business, and it must be carefully controlled. In general, the regulation is so precise that the negative consequences are minimal or not apparent. They are visible only when the process of V(D)J recombination goes awry, as for example in some chromosomal translocations associated with lymphoid tumors. Regulation is imposed not only to prevent the generation of random breaks in the DNA, but also to direct rearrangement to the appropriate locus or subregion of a locus in the appropriate cell at the appropriate time. Antigen receptor rearrangement is regulated essentially at four different levels: expression of the RAG1/2 recombinase, intrinsic biochemical properties of the recombinase and the cleavage reaction, the post-cleavage /DNA repair stage of the process, and accessibility of the substrate to the recombinase. Within each of these broad categories, multiple mechanisms are used to achieve the desired aims. The major focus of this review is on accessibility control and the role of chromatin and nuclear architecture in achieving this regulation, although other issues are touched upon.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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