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Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2007 Apr;14(4):301-7. Epub 2007 Mar 11.

Distinct faces of the Ku heterodimer mediate DNA repair and telomeric functions.

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Department of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology Section, Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, BCM225, Houston, Texas 77030-3411, USA.


The Ku heterodimer, comprised of Ku70 and Ku80 subunits, is a conserved complex involved in nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ). However, it also functions in maintenance of telomeres, chromosome termini normally resistant to end-joining events. To elucidate the spatial organization of these functions, we rationally guided Ku mutagenesis in yeast with real-valued evolutionary trace (rvET). This revealed two ancestrally related alpha-helices: one on the Ku70 surface that is required in yeast for NHEJ, and a second on the Ku80 surface that is required in yeast for telomeric heterochromatin formation. When bound to a DNA end, the surface containing the NHEJ-specific Ku70 helix is oriented toward the DNA terminus, whereas the surface containing the telomeric function-specific Ku80 helix faces inward, toward telomeric chromatin, when bound to a telomere. We propose a 'two-face' model for Ku and that divergent evolution of these faces allowed Ku's dual role in NHEJ and telomere maintenance.

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