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Mol Cell Biol. 1998 Aug;18(8):4679-88.

Functional analysis of coordinated cleavage in V(D)J recombination.

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


V(D)J recombination in vivo requires a pair of signals with distinct spacer elements of 12 and 23 bp that separate conserved heptamer and nonamer motifs. Cleavage in vitro by the RAG1 and RAG2 proteins can occur at individual signals when the reaction buffer contains Mn2+, but cleavage is restricted to substrates containing two signals when Mg2+ is the divalent cation. By using a novel V(D)J cleavage substrate, we show that while the RAG proteins alone establish a moderate preference for a 12/23 pair versus a 12/12 pair, a much stricter dependence of cleavage on the 12/23 signal pair is produced by the inclusion of HMG1 and competitor double-stranded DNA. The competitor DNA serves to inhibit the cleavage of substrates carrying a 12/12 or 23/23 pair, as well as the cutting at individual signals in 12/23 substrates. We show that a 23/33 pair is more efficiently recombined than a 12/33 pair, suggesting that the 12/23 rule can be generalized to a requirement for spacers that differ from each other by a single helical turn. Furthermore, we suggest that a fixed spatial orientation of signals is required for cleavage. In general, the same signal variants that can be cleaved singly can function under conditions in which a signal pair is required. However, a chemically modified substrate with one noncleavable signal enables us to show that formation of a functional cleavage complex is mechanistically separable from the cleavage reaction itself and that although cleavage requires a pair of signals, cutting does not have to occur simultaneously at both. The implications of these results are discussed with respect to the mechanism of V(D)J recombination and the generation of chromosomal translocations.

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