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EMBO J. 2008 Jan 9;27(1):290-300. Epub 2007 Nov 29.

Crystal structure of human XLF/Cernunnos reveals unexpected differences from XRCC4 with implications for NHEJ.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


The recently characterised 299-residue human XLF/Cernunnos protein plays a crucial role in DNA repair by non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) and interacts with the XRCC4-DNA Ligase IV complex. Here, we report the crystal structure of the XLF (1-233) homodimer at 2.3 A resolution, confirming the predicted structural similarity to XRCC4. The XLF coiled-coil, however, is shorter than that of XRCC4 and undergoes an unexpected reverse in direction giving rise to a short distorted four helical bundle and a C-terminal helical structure wedged between the coiled-coil and head domain. The existence of a dimer as the major species is confirmed by size-exclusion chromatography, analytical ultracentrifugation, small-angle X-ray scattering and other biophysical methods. We show that the XLF structure is not easily compatible with a proposed XRCC4:XLF heterodimer. However, we demonstrate interactions between dimers of XLF and XRCC4 by surface plasmon resonance and analyse these in terms of surface properties, amino-acid conservation and mutations in immunodeficient patients. Our data are most consistent with head-to-head interactions in a 2:2:1 XRCC4:XLF:Ligase IV complex.

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