The mechanism responsible for immunoglobulin class switch recombination is unknown. Previous work has shown that class switch sequences have the unusual property of forming RNA-DNA hybrids when transcribed in vitro. Here we show that the RNA-DNA hybrid structure that forms in vitro is an R-loop with a displaced guanine (G)-rich strand that is single-stranded. This R-loop structure exists in vivo in B cells that have been stimulated to transcribe the γ3 or the γ2b switch region. The length of the R-loops can exceed 1 kilobase. We propose that this distinctive DNA structure is important in the class switch recombination mechanism.
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