The fundamental role of chromatin loop extrusion in physiological V(D)J recombination

Nature. 2019 Sep;573(7775):600-604. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1547-y. Epub 2019 Sep 11.


The RAG endonuclease initiates Igh V(D)J assembly in B cell progenitors by joining D segments to JH segments, before joining upstream VH segments to DJH intermediates1. In mouse progenitor B cells, the CTCF-binding element (CBE)-anchored chromatin loop domain2 at the 3' end of Igh contains an internal subdomain that spans the 5' CBE anchor (IGCR1)3, the DH segments, and a RAG-bound recombination centre (RC)4. The RC comprises the JH-proximal D segment (DQ52), four JH segments, and the intronic enhancer (iEμ)5. Robust RAG-mediated cleavage is restricted to paired V(D)J segments flanked by complementary recombination signal sequences (12RSS and 23RSS)6. D segments are flanked downstream and upstream by 12RSSs that mediate deletional joining with convergently oriented JH-23RSSs and VH-23RSSs, respectively6. Despite 12/23 compatibility, inversional D-to-JH joining via upstream D-12RSSs is rare7,8. Plasmid-based assays have attributed the lack of inversional D-to-JH joining to sequence-based preference for downstream D-12RSSs9, as opposed to putative linear scanning mechanisms10,11. As RAG linearly scans convergent CBE-anchored chromatin loops4,12-14, potentially formed by cohesin-mediated loop extrusion15-18, we revisited its scanning role. Here we show that the chromosomal orientation of JH-23RSS programs RC-bound RAG to linearly scan upstream chromatin in the 3' Igh subdomain for convergently oriented D-12RSSs and, thereby, to mediate deletional joining of all D segments except RC-based DQ52, which joins by a diffusion-related mechanism. In a DQ52-based RC, formed in the absence of JH segments, RAG bound by the downstream DQ52-RSS scans the downstream constant region exon-containing 3' Igh subdomain, in which scanning can be impeded by targeted binding of nuclease-dead Cas9, by transcription through repetitive Igh switch sequences, and by the 3' Igh CBE-based loop anchor. Each scanning impediment focally increases RAG activity on potential substrate sequences within the impeded region. High-resolution mapping of chromatin interactions in the RC reveals that such focal RAG targeting is associated with corresponding impediments to the loop extrusion process that drives chromatin past RC-bound RAG.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • Endonucleases / metabolism
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Precursor Cells, B-Lymphoid / metabolism
  • V(D)J Recombination / physiology*


  • Chromatin
  • Endonucleases