Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back: Determining XPD helicase mechanism by single-molecule fluorescence and high-resolution optical tweezers

Maria Spies

XPD-like helicases constitute a prominent DNA helicase family critical for many aspects of genome maintenance. These enzymes share a unique structural feature, an auxiliary domain stabilized by an iron-sulphur (FeS) cluster, and a 5′–3′ polarity of DNA translocation and duplex unwinding. Biochemical analyses alongside two single-molecule approaches, total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy and high-resolution optical tweezers, have shown how the unique structural features of XPD helicase and its specific patterns of substrate interactions tune the helicase for its specific cellular function and shape its molecular mechanism. The FeS domain forms a duplex separation wedge and contributes to an extended DNA binding site. Interactions within this site position the helicase in an orientation to unwind the duplex, control the helicase rate, and verify the integrity of the translocating strand. Consistent with its cellular role, processivity of XPD is limited and is defined by an idiosyncratic stepping kinetics. DNA duplex separation occurs in single base pair steps punctuated by frequent backward steps and conformational rearrangements of the protein–DNA complex. As such, the helicase in isolation mainly stabilizes spontaneous base pair opening and exhibits a limited ability to unwind stable DNA duplexes. The presence of a cognate ssDNA binding protein converts XPD into a vigorous helicase by destabilizing the upstream dsDNA as well as by trapping the unwound strands. Remarkably, the two proteins can co-exist on the same DNA strand without competing for binding. The current model of the XPD unwinding mechanism will be discussed along with possible modifications to this mechanism by the helicase interacting partners and unique features of such bio-medically important XPD-like helicases as FANCJ (BACH1), RTEL1 and CHLR1 (DDX11).

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