Sequence-Dependent Dynamics of Synthetic and Endogenous RSSs in V(D)J Recombination

Sequence-Dependent Dynamics of Synthetic and Endogenous RSSs in V(D)J Recombination

Soichi Hirokawa, Griffin Chure, Nathan M. Belliveau, Geoffrey A. Lovely, Michael Anaya, David G. Schatz, David Baltimore, and Rob Phillips

Main Text and Supplemental Material


Developing lymphocytes in the immune system of jawed vertebrates assemble antigen-receptor genes by undergoing large-scale reorganization of spatially separated V, D, and J gene segments through a process known as V(D)J recombination. The RAG protein initiates this process by binding and cutting recombination signal sequences (RSSs) composed of conserved heptamer and nonamer sequences flanking less well-conserved 12- or 23-bp spacers. Little quantitative information is known about the contributions of individual RSS positions over the course of the RAG-RSS interaction. We employ a single-molecule method known as tethered particle motion to quantify the formation, stability, and cleavage of the RAG-12RSS-23RSS paired complex (PC) for numerous synthetic and endogenous 12RSSs. We thoroughly investigate the sequence space around a RSS by making 40 different single-bp changes and characterizing the reaction dynamics. We reveal that single-bp changes affect RAG function based on their position: loss of cleavage function (first three positions of the heptamer); reduced propensity for forming the PC (the nonamer and last four bp of the heptamer); or variable effects on PC formation (spacer). We find that the rare usage of some endogenous gene segments can be mapped directly to their adjacent 12RSSs to which RAG binds weakly. The 12RSS, however, cannot ex- plain the high-frequency usage of other gene segments. Finally, we find that RSS nicking, while not required for PC formation, substantially stabilizes the PC. Our findings provide detailed insights into the contribution of individual RSS positions to steps of the RAG-RSS re- action that previously have been difficult to assess quantitatively.


V(D)J recombination is a genomic cut-and-paste process for generating diverse antigen-receptor repertoires. The RAG enzyme brings separate gene segments together by binding the neighboring sequences called RSSs, forming a paired complex (PC) before cutting the DNA. There are limited quantitative studies of the sequence-dependent dynamics of the crucial inter- mediate steps of PC formation and cleavage. Here, we quantify individual RAG-DNA dynamics for various RSSs. While RSSs of frequently-used segments do not comparatively enhance PC formation or cleavage, the rare use of some segments can be explained by their neighboring RSSs crippling PC formation and/or cleavage. Furthermore, PC lifetimes reveal DNA-nicking is not required for forming the PC, but PCs with nicks are more stable.