During the humoral immune response, B cells undergo a dramatic change in phenotype to enable antibody affinity maturation in germinal centers (GCs). Using genome-wide chromosomal conformation capture (Hi-C), we found that GC B cells undergo massive reorganization of the genomic architecture that encodes the GC B cell transcriptome. Coordinate expression of genes that specify the GC B cell phenotype—most prominently BCL6—was achieved through a multilayered chromatin reorganization process involving (1) increased promoter connectivity, (2) formation of enhancer networks, (3) 5′ to 3′ gene looping, and (4) merging of gene neighborhoods that share active epigenetic marks. BCL6 was an anchor point for the formation of GC-specific gene and enhancer loops on chromosome 3. Deletion of a GC-specific, highly interactive locus control region upstream of Bcl6 abrogated GC formation in mice. Thus, large-scale and multi-tiered genomic three-dimensional reorganization is required for coordinate expression of phenotype-driving gene sets that determine the unique characteristics of GC B cells.
The formation of germinal center B cells is crucial to the production of high-affinity antibodies during the humoral immune response. Here, Bunting et al. provide evidence for multilayered reorganization of genomic architecture centered around BCL6 and an upstream locus control region, coordinating the transcriptional reprograming during the transition between naive and germinal center B cells.