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Nucleic Acids Res. 1996 Jun 1;24(11):2036-43.

Processing of branched DNA intermediates by a complex of human FEN-1 and PCNA.

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Department of Pathology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


In eukaryotic cells, a 5' flap DNA endonuclease activity and a ds DNA 5'-exonuclease activity exist within a single enzyme called FEN-1 [flap endo-nuclease and 5(five)'-exo-nuclease]. This 42 kDa endo-/exonuclease, FEN-1, is highly homologous to human XP-G, Saccharomyces cerevisiae RAD2 and S.cerevisiae RTH1. These structure-specific nucleases recognize and cleave a branched DNA structure called a DNA flap, and its derivative called a pseudo Y-structure. FEN-1 is essential for lagging strand DNA synthesis in Okazaki fragment joining. FEN-1 also appears to be important in mismatch repair. Here we find that human PCNA, the processivity factor for eukaryotic polymerases, physically associates with human FEN-1 and stimulates its endonucleolytic activity at branched DNA structures and its exonucleolytic activity at nick and gap structures. Structural requirements for FEN-1 and PCNA loading provide an interesting picture of this stimulation. PCNA loads on to substrates at double-stranded DNA ends. In contrast, FEN-1 requires a free single-stranded 5' terminus and appears to load by tracking along the single-stranded DNA branch. These physical constraints define the range of DNA replication, recombination and repair processes in which this family of structure-specific nucleases participate. A model explaining the exonucleolytic activity of FEN-1 in terms of its endonucleolytic activity is proposed based on these observations.

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