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Mol Microbiol. 2001 Jan;39(2):494-501.

Single-stranded DNA intermediates in IS91 rolling-circle transposition.

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Departamento de Biología Molecular (Unidad Asociada al CIB, CSIC), Universidad de Cantabria, C/Herrera Oria s/n, 39011 Santander, Spain.


IS91 displays a number of characteristics unique among insertion sequence (IS) elements, suggesting that it transposes by a novel mechanism called rolling-circle (RC) transposition. We reported previously that IS91 transposase (TnpA) amino acid sequence shares a series of five conserved signatures with A proteins of RC replicating phages, including a pair of invariant tyrosines that catalyse two successive transesterification reactions during replication initiation and termination. To analyse their role in IS91 transposition, we constructed a series of TnpA derivatives in which the invariant Tyr-249 and/or Tyr-253 were mutated to either phenylalanine or serine. Mutation of either tyrosine resulted in complete loss of transposition activity in vivo. This result was taken as a first new line of evidence that TnpA is a functional analogue of phiX174 phage A protein. Secondly, RC replication plasmids and phages accumulate single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) intermediates as a result of uncoupled leading and lagging DNA strand synthesis. Using a plasmid carrying an IS91-derived IRLkan-IRR transposable cassette, in which the left (IRL)- and right (IRR)-terminal sequences of IS91 flank a kanamycin resistance gene (kan), we demonstrated the in vivo formation of two new DNA species after induction of transposase expression. The first was a circular ssDNA that contained the transposable cassette covalently joined at its exact termini, whereas the second was a double-stranded circle of the same element. When this experiment was repeated using the mutant transposases described above, the ssDNA and dsDNA intermediates could not be observed, indicating that the integrity of both Y249 and Y253 was essential for their appearance. The presence of ssDNA intermediate products is the first biochemical evidence for a RC mechanism of IS91 transposition.

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