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Much is still unknown about the mechanisms by which helicases unwind duplex DNA. Whereas structure-based models describe DNA unwinding as occurring by the ATPase motors mechanically pulling the DNA duplex across a wedge domain in the helicase, biochemical data show that processive DNA unwinding by E. coli RecBCD helicase can occur in the absence of ssDNA translocation by the canonical RecB and RecD motors. Here we show that DNA unwinding is not a simple consequence of ssDNA translocation by the motors. Using stopped-flow fluorescence approaches, we show that a RecB nuclease domain deletion variant (RecBΔNucCD) unwinds dsDNA at significantly slower rates than RecBCD, while the ssDNA translocation rate is unaffected. This effect is primarily due to the absence of the nuclease domain since a nuclease-dead mutant (RecBD1080ACD), which retains the nuclease domain, showed no change in ssDNA translocation or dsDNA unwinding rates relative to RecBCD on short DNA substrates (≤60 base pairs). Hence, ssDNA translocation is not rate-limiting for DNA unwinding. RecBΔNucCD also initiates unwinding much slower than RecBCD from a blunt-ended DNA. RecBΔNucCD also unwinds DNA ∼two-fold slower than RecBCD on long DNA (∼20 kilo base pair) in single molecule optical tweezer experiments, although the rates for RecBD1080ACD unwinding are intermediate between RecBCD and RecBΔNucCD. Surprisingly, significant pauses in DNA unwinding occur even in the absence of chi (crossover hotspot instigator) sites. We hypothesize that the nuclease domain influences the rate of DNA base pair melting, possibly allosterically and that RecBΔNucCD may mimic a post-chi state of RecBCD. Copyright © 2023 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Nicole T Fazio, Kacey N Mersch, Linxuan Hao, Timothy M Lohman. E. coli RecB Nuclease Domain Regulates RecBCD Helicase Activity but not Single Stranded DNA Translocase Activity. Journal of molecular biology. 2024 Jan 15;436(2):168381

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PMID: 38081382

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