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Nucleic Acids Res. 2010 Apr;38(6):2036-43. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkp1177. Epub 2009 Dec 30.

Caught in the act: the lifetime of synaptic intermediates during the search for homology on DNA.

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Department of Physics of Complex Systems, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Homologous recombination plays pivotal roles in DNA repair and in the generation of genetic diversity. To locate homologous target sequences at which strand exchange can occur within a timescale that a cell's biology demands, a single-stranded DNA-recombinase complex must search among a large number of sequences on a genome by forming synapses with chromosomal segments of DNA. A key element in the search is the time it takes for the two sequences of DNA to be compared, i.e. the synapse lifetime. Here, we visualize for the first time fluorescently tagged individual synapses formed by RecA, a prokaryotic recombinase, and measure their lifetime as a function of synapse length and differences in sequence between the participating DNAs. Surprisingly, lifetimes can be approximately 10 s long when the DNAs are fully heterologous, and much longer for partial homology, consistently with ensemble FRET measurements. Synapse lifetime increases rapidly as the length of a region of full homology at either the 3'- or 5'-ends of the invading single-stranded DNA increases above 30 bases. A few mismatches can reduce dramatically the lifetime of synapses formed with nearly homologous DNAs. These results suggest the need for facilitated homology search mechanisms to locate homology successfully within the timescales observed in vivo.

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