V(D)J Recombination

Volume 650 of the series Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology pp 59-72

Large-Scale Chromatin Remodeling at the Immunoglobulin Heavy Chain Locus: A Paradigm for Multigene Regulation

  • Daniel J. BollandAffiliated withLaboratory of Chromatin and Gene Expression, Babraham Institute
  • , Andrew L. WoodAffiliated withLaboratory of Chromatin and Gene Expression, Babraham Institute
  • , Anne E. CorcoranAffiliated withLaboratory of Chromatin and Gene Expression, Babraham Institute Email author 

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V(D)J recombination in lymphocytes is the cutting and pasting together of antigen receptor genes in cis to generate the enormous variety of coding sequences required to produce diverse antigen receptor proteins. It is the key role of the adaptive immune response, which must potentially combat millions of different foreign antigens. Most antigen receptor loci have evolved to be extremely large and contain multiple individual V, D and J genes. The immunoglobulin heavy chain (Igh) and immunoglobulin kappa light chain (Igk) loci are the largest multigene loci in the mammalian genome and V(D)J recombination is one of the most complicated genetic processes in the nucleus. The challenge for the appropriate lymphocyte is one of macro-management—to make all of the antigen receptor genes in a particular locus available for recombination at the appropriate developmental time-point. Conversely, these large loci must be kept closed in lymphocytes in which they do not normally recombine, to guard against genomic instability generated by the DNA double strand breaks inherent to the V(D)J recombination process. To manage all of these demanding criteria, V(D)J recombination is regulated at numerous levels. It is restricted to lymphocytes since the Rag genes which control the DNA double-strand break step of recombination are only expressed in these cells. Within the lymphocyte lineage, immunoglobulin recombination is restricted to B-lymphocytes and TCR recombination to T-lymphocytes by regulation of locus accessibility, which occurs at multiple levels. Accessibility of recombination signal sequences (RSSs) flanking individual V, D and J genes at the nucleosomal level is the key micro-management mechanism, which is discussed in greater detail in other chapters. This chapter will explore how the antigen receptor loci are regulated as a whole, focussing on the Igh locus as a paradigm for the mechanisms involved. Numerous recent studies have begun to unravel the complex and complementary processes involved in this large-scale locus organisation. We will examine the structure of the Igh locus and the large-scale and higher-order chromatin remodelling processes associated with V(D)J recombination, at the level of the locus itself, its conformational changes and its dynamic localisation within the nucleus.