Diversity in the Ag binding receptors of B and T cells is achieved through a process of genomic rearrangement involving selection of recombination sites and, in adult mice, addition of nontemplated (N) nucleotides. We have analyzed 543 Ig heavy chain nonproductive rearrangements, involving a single variable region gene segment, from adult and perinatal mice. We infer several fundamental and novel features of the recombination mechanism. N regions are formed predominantly from the DNA plus strand or from the DNA minus strand polymerizations, rather than as a concatenation of the two. Homologous overlaps of as few as one nucleotide between gene segments cause significant skewing of recombination sites. The V(H) recombination site spectrum differs in perinatal and adult mice, with sites representing overlap between V(H) and D over-represented in the perinatal mice, and sites representing overlaps between V(H) and the N strand polymerized onto the D segment over-represented in the adult mice. Thus, in V(D)J joining, N nucleotide addition and recombination site choice are highly interdependent events.

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