V(D)J recombination is initiated by the recombination-activating gene (RAG) recombinase, consisting of RAG-1 and RAG-2 subunits. The susceptibility of gene segments to cleavage by RAG is associated with histone modifications characteristic of active chromatin, including trimethylation of histone H3 at lysine 4 (H3K4me3). Binding of H3K4me3 by a plant homeodomain (PHD) in RAG-2 stimulates substrate binding and catalysis, which are functions of RAG-1. This has suggested an allosteric mechanism in which information regarding occupancy of the RAG-2 PHD is transmitted to RAG-1. To determine whether the conformational distribution of RAG is altered by H3K4me3, we mapped changes in solvent accessibility of cysteine thiols by differential isotopic chemical footprinting. Binding of H3K4me3 to the RAG-2 PHD induces conformational changes in RAG-1 within a DNA-binding domain and in the ZnH2 domain, which acts as a scaffold for the catalytic center. Thus, engagement of H3K4me3 by the RAG-2 PHD is associated with dynamic conformational changes in RAG-1, consistent with allosteric control by active chromatin.
Keywords: DNA recombination; allosteric control; epigenetic modification; genomic plasticity; immune development.