The immunoglobulin heavy chain isotype switch is mediated by a DNA rearrangement involving specific genomic segments referred to as switch regions. Switch regions are composed of tandemly repeated simple sequences. The role of the tandemly repeated structure of switch regions in the switch recombination process is not understood. We mapped eight recombination sites--six in the gamma 1 and two in the gamma 3 tandem arrays. In addition, we obtained molecular clones representing three of the six gamma 1 rearrangements, and determined the nucleotide sequences of the recombination sites in each. In general, the rearrangements are confined to the tandem repeat units, and are not clustered in a particular portion of either the gamma 3 or gamma 1 switch region. Nucleotide sequence analysis of one of the recombinant clones, gamma M35, reveals evidence for a successive switch event wherein a recombination between S mu and S gamma 3 was followed by recombination 57 bp downstream with S gamma 1. gamma 1 sequence data from the molecular clones we obtained, together with similar data from other investigators regarding the gamma 1, gamma 2b, and gamma 2a switch regions, reveals that recombinations tend to occur at homologous positions of the respective gamma-unit repeats, adjacent to the elements AGCT and GGGG found in each. This finding suggests that the cutting and religation step of the recombination process is mediated by a recombinase common to the four gamma-isotypes.

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