The EMBO journal

Transcription-coupled eviction of histones H2A/H2B governs V(D)J recombination.

PMID 23463099


Initiation of V(D)J recombination critically relies on the formation of an accessible chromatin structure at recombination signal sequences (RSSs) but how this accessibility is generated is poorly understood. Immunoglobulin light-chain loci normally undergo recombination in pre-B cells. We show here that equipping (earlier) pro-B cells with the increased pre-B-cell levels of just one transcription factor, IRF4, triggers the entire cascade of events leading to premature light-chain recombination. We then used this finding to dissect the critical events that generate RSS accessibility and show that the chromatin modifications previously associated with recombination are insufficient. Instead, we establish that non-coding transcription triggers IgL RSS accessibility and find that the accessibility is transient. Transcription transiently evicts H2A/H2B dimers, releasing 35-40 bp of nucleosomal DNA, and we demonstrate that H2A/H2B loss can explain the RSS accessibility observed in vivo. We therefore propose that the transcription-mediated eviction of H2A/H2B dimers is an important mechanism that makes RSSs accessible for the initiation of recombination.