The mechanisms of human lymphoid chromosomal translocations and their medical relevance
The most common human lymphoid chromosomal translocations involve concurrent failures of the recombination activating gene (RAG) complex and Activation-Induced Deaminase (AID). These are two enzymes that are normally expressed for purposes of the two site-specific DNA recombination processes: V(D)J recombination and class switch recombination (CSR). First, though it is rare, a low level of expression of AID can introduce long-lived T:G mismatch lesions at 20–600 bp fragile zones. Second, the V(D)J recombination process can occasionally fail to rejoin coding ends, and this failure may permit an opportunity for Artemis:DNA-dependent kinase catalytic subunit (DNA-PKcs) to convert the T:G mismatch sites at the fragile zones into double-strand breaks. The 20–600 bp fragile zones must be, at least transiently, in a single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) state for the first step to occur, because AID only acts on ssDNA. Here we discuss the key DNA sequence features that lead to AID action at a fragile zone, which are (a) the proximity and density of strings of cytosine nucleotides (C-strings) that cause a B/A-intermediate DNA conformation; (b) overlapping AID hotspots that contain a methyl CpG (WRCG), which AID converts to a long-lived T:G mismatch; and (c) transcription, which, though not essential, favors increased ssDNA in the fragile zone. We also summarize chromosomal features of the focal fragile zones in lymphoid malignancies and discuss the clinical relevance of understanding the translocation mechanisms. Many of the key principles covered here are also relevant to chromosomal translocations in non-lymphoid somatic cells as well.