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A novel structure of a DNA polymerase - gapped DNA complex reveals a role for substrate conformational dynamics in structure-specific DNA recognition

Timothy D. Craggs, Marko Sustarsic, Anne Plochowietz, Majid Mosayebi, Hendrik Kaju, Andrew Cuthbert, Johannes Hohlbein, Laura Domicevica, Phillip C. Biggin, Jonathan P. K. Doye and Achillefs N. Kapanidis


DNA-binding proteins utilise different recognition mechanisms to locate their DNA targets. Some proteins recognise specific nucleotide sequences, while many DNA repair proteins interact with specific (often bent) DNA structures. While sequence-specific DNA binding mechanisms have been studied extensively, structure-specific mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we study structure-specific DNA recognition by examining the structure and dynamics of DNA polymerase I (Pol) substrates both alone and in Pol-DNA complexes. Using a rigid-body docking approach based on a network of 73 distance restraints collected using single-molecule FRET, we determined a novel solution structure of the single-nucleotide-gapped DNA-Pol binary complex. The structure was highly consistent with previous crystal structures with regards to the downstream primer-template DNA substrate; further, our structure showed a previously unobserved sharp bend (~120°) in the DNA substrate; we also showed that this pronounced bending of the substrate is present in living bacteria. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations and single-molecule quenching assays revealed that 4-5 nt of downstream gap-proximal DNA are unwound in the binary complex. Coarse-grained simulations on free gapped substrates reproduced our experimental FRET values with remarkable accuracy (<ΔFRET> = -0.0025 across 34 independent distances) and revealed that the one-nucleotide-gapped DNA frequently adopted highly bent conformations similar to those in the Pol-bound state (ΔG < 4 kT); such conformations were much less accessible to nicked (> 7 kT) or duplex (>> 10 kT) DNA. Our results suggest a mechanism by which Pol and other structure-specific DNA-binding proteins locate their DNA targets through sensing of the conformational dynamics of DNA substrates.

The full paper is available from biorXiv.org.