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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Aug 27;110(35):14225-30. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1306345110. Epub 2013 Aug 13.

Nucleic acid determinants for selective deamination of DNA over RNA by activation-induced deaminase.

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Department of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Activation-induced deaminase (AID), a member of the larger AID/APOBEC family, is the key catalyst in initiating antibody somatic hypermutation and class-switch recombination. The DNA deamination model accounting for AID's functional role posits that AID deaminates genomic deoxycytosine bases within the immunoglobulin locus, activating downstream repair pathways that result in antibody maturation. Although this model is well supported, the molecular basis for AID's selectivity for DNA over RNA remains an open and pressing question, reflecting a broader need to elucidate how AID/APOBEC enzymes engage their substrates. To address these questions, we have synthesized a series of chimeric nucleic acid substrates and characterized their reactivity with AID. These chimeric substrates feature targeted variations at the 2'-position of nucleotide sugars, allowing us to interrogate the steric and conformational basis for nucleic acid selectivity. We demonstrate that modifications to the target nucleotide can significantly alter AID's reactivity. Strikingly, within a substrate that is otherwise DNA, a single RNA-like 2'-hydroxyl substitution at the target cytosine is sufficient to compromise deamination. Alternatively, modifications that favor a DNA-like conformation (or sugar pucker) are compatible with deamination. AID's closely related homolog APOBEC1 is similarly sensitive to RNA-like substitutions at the target cytosine. Inversely, with unreactive 2'-fluoro-RNA substrates, AID's deaminase activity was rescued by introducing a trinucleotide DNA patch spanning the target cytosine and two nucleotides upstream. These data suggest a role for nucleotide sugar pucker in explaining the molecular basis for AID's DNA selectivity and, more generally, suggest how other nucleic acid-modifying enzymes may distinguish DNA from RNA.


DNA cytosine deamination; protein nucleic acid interactions

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