V(D)J recombination is a form of site-specific DNA rearrangement through which antigen receptor genes are assembled. This process involves the breakage and reunion of DNA mediated by two lymphoid cell-specific proteins, recombination activating genes RAG-1 and RAG-2, and ubiquitously expressed architectural DNA-binding proteins and DNA-repair factors. Here I review the progress toward understanding the composition, assembly, organization, and activity of the protein-DNA complexes that support the initiation of V(D)J recombination, as well as the molecular basis for the sequence-specific recognition of recombination signal sequences (RSSs) that are the targets of the RAG proteins. Parallels are drawn between V(D)J recombination and Tn5/Tn10 transposition with respect to the reactions, the proteins, and the protein-DNA complexes involved in these processes. I also consider the relative roles of the different sequence elements within the RSS in recognition, cleavage, and post-cleavage events. Finally, I discuss alternative DNA transactions mediated by the V(D)J recombinase, the protein-DNA complexes that support them, and factors and forces that control them.
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