Recurrent chromosomal abnormalities, especially chromosomal translocations, are strongly associated with certain subtypes of leukemia, lymphoma and solid tumors. The appearance of particular translocations or associated genomic alterations can be important indicators of disease prognosis, and in some cases, certain translocations may indicate appropriate therapy protocols. To date, most of our knowledge about chromosomal translocations has derived from characterization of the highly selected recurrent translocations found in certain cancers. Until recently, mechanisms that promote or suppress chromosomal translocations, in particular, those responsible for their initiation, have not been addressed. For translocations to occur, two distinct chromosomal loci must be broken, brought together (synapsed) and joined. Here, we discuss recent findings on processes and pathways that influence the initiation of chromosomal translocations, including the generation fo DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) by general factors or in the context of the Lymphocyte-specific V(D)J and IgH class-switch recombination processes. We also discuss the role of spatial proximity of DSBs in the interphase nucleus with respect to how DSBs on different chromosomes are justaposed for joining. In addition, we discuss the DNA DSB response and its role in recognizing and tethering chromosomal DSBs to prevent translocations, as well as potential roles of the classical and alternative DSB end-joining pathways in suppressing or promoting translocations. Finally, we discuss the potential roles of long range regulatory elements, such as the 3'IgH enhancer complex, in promoting the expression of certain translocations that are frequent in lymphomas and, thereby, contributing to their frequent appearance in tumors.
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