The hallmark of Fanconi anemia (FA), a rare inherited cancer prone disorder, is a high level of chromosome breakage, spontaneous and induced by cross-linking agents. The increased genomic instability of FA is reflected at the gene level by an overproduction of intragenic deletions. Two of the eight FA genes have been cloned, however, their function remains unknown. We recently demonstrated that the lack of functional FA genes lead to a marked decrease in the fidelity of non-homologous end-joining, a pathway that mammalian cells predominantly use to repair DNA double-strand breaks (DSB). Knowing that specific DSB are generated during V(D)J recombination, here we have examined the molecular features of V(D)J rearrangements in normal and FA lymphoblasts belonging to complementation groups C and D. Using appropriate extrachromosomal recombination substrates, V(D)J coding and signal joint formation have been analysed quantitatively and qualitatively. Our results show that the frequency of coding and signal joint formation was not significantly different in normal and FA cells. However, when the fidelity of the V(D)J reaction was examined, we found that in normal human lymphoblasts V(D)J recombination proceeds with high precision, whereas, in FA cells a several fold increase in the frequency of aberrant rearrangements is associated with V(D)J coding joint formation. The abnormal recombinants that we recovered in FA are consistent with excessive degradation of DNA ends generated during the V(D)J reaction. On the basis of these findings, we propose a working model in which FA genes play a role in the control of the fidelity of rejoining of specific DNA ends. Such a defect may explain several basic features of FA, such as chromosomal instability and deletion proneness.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press