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Nucleic Acids Res. 1997 Apr 1;25(7):1375-82.

A complex of RAG-1 and RAG-2 proteins persists on DNA after single-strand cleavage at V(D)J recombination signal sequences.

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Department of Pathology, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 South Euclid Avenue, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


The recombination activating gene (RAG) 1 and 2 proteins are required for initiation of V(D)J recombination in vivo and have been shown to be sufficient to introduce DNA double-strand breaks at recombination signal sequences (RSSs) in a cell-free assay in vitro. RSSs consist of a highly conserved palindromic heptamer that is separated from a slightly less conserved A/T-rich nonamer by either a 12 or 23 bp spacer of random sequence. Despite the high sequence specificity of RAG-mediated cleavage at RSSs, direct binding of the RAG proteins to these sequences has been difficult to demonstrate by standard methods. Even when this can be demonstrated, questions about the order of events for an individual RAG-RSS complex will require methods that monitor aspects of the complex during transitions from one step of the reaction to the next. Here we have used template-independent DNA polymerase terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) in order to assess occupancy of the reaction intermediates by the RAG complex during the reaction. In addition, this approach allows analysis of the accessibility of end products of a RAG-catalyzed cleavage reaction for N nucleotide addition. The results indicate that RAG proteins form a long-lived complex with the RSS once the initial nick is generated, because the 3'-OH group at the nick remains obstructed for TdT-catalyzed N nucleotide addition. In contrast, the 3'-OH group generated at the signal end after completion of the cleavage reaction can be efficiently tailed by TdT, suggesting that the RAG proteins disassemble from the signal end after DNA double-strand cleavage has been completed. Therefore, a single RAG complex maintains occupancy from the first step (nick formation) to the second step (cleavage). In addition, the results suggest that N region diversity at V(D)J junctions within rearranged immunoglobulin and T cell receptor gene loci can only be introduced after the generation of RAG-catalyzed DNA double-strand breaks, i.e. during the DNA end joining phase of the V(D)J recombination reaction.

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