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Cre recombinase residue Arg259 mediates a canonical bidentate hydrogen-bonded contact with Gua27 of its LoxP DNA substrate. Substituting Cyt8-Gua27 with the three other basepairs, to give LoxAT, LoxTA, and LoxGC, reduced Cre-mediated recombination in vitro, with the preference order of Gua27 > Ade27 approximately Thy27 >> Cyt27. While LoxAT and LoxTA exhibited 2.5-fold reduced affinity and 2.5-5-fold slower reaction rates, LoxGC was a barely functional substrate. Its maximum level of turnover was 6-fold reduced over other substrates, and it exhibited 8.5-fold reduced Cre binding and 6.3-fold slower turnover rate. With LoxP, the rate-limiting step for recombination occurs after protein-DNA complex assembly but before completion of the first strand exchange to form the Holliday junction (HJ) intermediate. With the mutant substrates, it occurs after HJ formation. Using an increased DNA-binding E262Q/E266Q "CreQQ" variant, all four substrates react more readily, but with much less difference between them, and maintained the earlier rate-limiting step. The data indicate that Cre discriminates substrates through differences in (i) concentration dependence of active complex assembly, (ii) turnover rate, and (iii) maximum yield of product at saturation, all of which are functions of the Cre-DNA binding interaction. CreQQ suppression of Lox mutant defects implies that coupling between binding and turnover involves a change in Cre subunit DNA affinities during the "conformational switch" that occurs prior to the second strand exchange. These results provide an example of how a DNA-binding enzyme can exert specificity via affinity modulation of conformational transitions that occur along its reaction pathway.


Kathy A Gelato, Shelley S Martin, Scott Wong, Enoch P Baldwin. Multiple levels of affinity-dependent DNA discrimination in Cre-LoxP recombination. Biochemistry. 2006 Oct 10;45(40):12216-26

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PMID: 17014075

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