Sequence-dependent dynamics of synthetic and endogenous RSSs in V(D)J recombination
Developing lymphocytes of jawed vertebrates cleave and combine distinct gene segments to assemble antigen–receptor genes. This process called V(D)J recombination that involves the RAG recombinase 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 track the formation, lifetime and cleavage of individual RAG–12RSS–23RSS paired complexes (PCs) for numerous synthetic and endogenous 12RSSs. We reveal that single-bp changes, including in the 12RSS spacer, can significantly and selectively alter PC formation or the probability of RAG-mediated cleavage in the PC. We find that some rarely used endogenous gene segments can be mapped directly to poor RAG binding on their adjacent 12RSSs. Finally, we find that while abro gating RSS nicking with Ca2+ leads to substantially shorter PC lifetimes, analysis of the complete lifetime distributions of any 12RSS even on this reduced system reveals that the process of exiting the PC involves unidentified molecular details whose involvement in RAG–RSS dynamics are crucial to quantitatively capture kinetics in V(D)J recombination.