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EMBO J. 2003 Mar 17;22(6):1410-8.

Protein motion from non-specific to specific DNA by three-dimensional routes aided by supercoiling.

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Department of Biochemistry, School of Medical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TD, UK.


DNA-binding proteins are generally thought to locate their target sites by first associating with the DNA at random and then translocating to the specific site by one-dimensional (1D) diffusion along the DNA. We report here that non-specific DNA conveys proteins to their target sites just as well when held near the target by catenation as when co-linear with the target. Hence, contrary to the prevalent view, proteins move from random to specific sites primarily by three-dimensional (3D) rather than 1D pathways, by multiple dissociation/re-association events within a single DNA molecule. We also uncover a role for DNA supercoiling in target-site location. Proteins find their sites more readily in supercoiled than in relaxed DNA, again indicating 3D rather than 1D routes.

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