Virus-transformed pre-B cells undergo ordered immunoglobulin (Ig) gene rearrangements during culture. We devised a series of highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction assays for Ig gene rearrangement and unrearranged Ig gene segment transcription to study both the possible relationship between these processes in cultured pre-B cells and the role played by heavy (H) chain (mu) protein in regulating gene rearrangement. Our analysis of pre-B cell cultures representing various stages of maturity revealed that transcription of each germline Ig locus precedes or is coincident with its rearrangement. Cell lines containing one functional rearranged H chain allele, however, continue to transcribe and to rearrange the allelic, unrearranged H chain locus. These cell lines appear to initiate but not terminate rearrangement events and therefore provide information about the requirements for activating rearrangement but not about allelic exclusion mechanisms.

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