Allelic exclusion guarantees that each B or T cell only produces a single antigen receptor, and in this way contributes to immune diversity. This process is actually initiated in the early embryo when the immune receptor loci become asynchronously replicating in a stochastic manner with one early and one late allele in each cell. This distinct differential replication timing feature then serves an instructive mark that directs a series of allele-specific epigenetic events in the immune system, including programmed histone modification, nuclear localization and DNA demethylation that ultimately bring about preferred rearrangement on a single allele, and this decision is temporally stabilized by feedback mechanisms that inhibit recombination on the second allele. In principle, these same molecular components are also used for controlling monoallelic expression at other genomic loci, such as those carrying interleukins and olfactory receptor genes that require the choice of one gene out of a large array. Thus, allelic exclusion appears to represent a general epigenetic phenomenon that is modeled on the same basis as X chromosome inactivation.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the Israel Academy of Science (Y.B. and H.C.), Philip Morris USA Inc. and Philip Morris International (Y.B. and H.C.), the National Institutes of Health (Y.B. and H.C.) and the Israel Cancer Research Fund (Y.B. and H.C.).