V(D)J gene segment recombination is linked to the cell cycle by the periodic phosphorylation and destruction of the RAG-2 protein at the G1-to-S cell cycle transition. To examine the function of this coupling, we constructed mice in which the phosphorylation site at threonine 490 of RAG-2 was mutated to alanine. The RAG-2(T490A) mutation uncoupled DNA cleavage from cell cycle and promoted aberrant recombination. Similar aberrant recombination products were observed in mice deficient in the Skp2 ubiquitin ligase subunit, which is required for periodic destruction of RAG-2. On a p53-deficient background, the RAG-2(T490A) mutation induced lymphoid malignancies characterized by clonal chromosomal translocations involving antigen receptor genes. Taken together, these observations provide a direct link between the periodic destruction of RAG-2 and lymphoid tumorigenesis. We infer that cell cycle control of the V(D)J recombinase limits the potential genomic damage that could otherwise result from RAG-mediated DNA cleavage.
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