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J Mol Biol. 2006 Apr 7;357(4):1089-104. Epub 2006 Jan 30.

DNA topology and geometry in Flp and Cre recombination.

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Institute of Biomedical Sciences and Technology and Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX 75083, USA.


The Flp recombinase of yeast and the Cre recombinase of bacteriophage P1 both belong to the lambda-integrase (Int) family of site-specific recombinases. These recombination systems recognize recombination-target sequences that consist of two 13bp inverted repeats flanking a 6 or 8bp spacer sequence. Recombination reactions involve particular geometric and topological relationships between DNA target sites at synapsis, which we investigate using nicked-circular DNA molecules. Examination of the tertiary structure of synaptic complexes formed on nicked plasmid DNAs by atomic-force microscopy, in conjunction with detailed topological analysis using the mathematics of tangles, shows that only a limited number of recombination-site topologies are consistent with the global structures of plasmids bearing directly and inversely repeated sites. The tangle solutions imply that there is significant distortion of the Holliday-junction intermediate relative to the planar structure of the four-way DNA junction present in the Flp and Cre co-crystal structures. Based on simulations of nucleoprotein structures that connect the two-dimensional tangle solutions with three-dimensional models of the complexes, we propose a recombination mechanism in which the synaptic intermediate is characterized by a non-planar, possibly near-tetrahedral, Holliday-junction intermediate. Only modest conformational changes within this structure are needed to form the symmetric, planar DNA junction, which may be characteristic of shorter-lived intermediates along the recombination pathway.

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