Naked and protein-blocked DNA ends occur naturally during immune cell development, meiosis, and at telomeres as well as from aborted topoisomerase reactions, collapsed replication forks, and other stressors. Damaged DNA ends are dangerous in cells and if left unrepaired can lead to genomic rearrangement, loss of genetic information, and eventually cancer. Mre11 is part of the Mre11–Rad50–Nbs1 complex that recognizes DNA double-strand breaks and has exonuclease and endonuclease activities that help to initiate the repair processes to resolve these broken DNA ends. In fact, these activities are crucial for proper DNA damage repair pathway choice. Here, using Pyrococcus furiosus Mre11, we question how two Mre11 separation-of-function mutants, one previously described but the second first described here, maintain endonuclease activity in the absence of exonuclease activity. To start, we performed solution-state NMR experiments to assign the side-chain methyl groups of the 64-kDa Mre11 nuclease and capping domains, which allowed us to describe the structural differences between Mre11 bound to exo- and endonuclease substrates. Then, through biochemical and biophysical characterization, including NMR structural and dynamics studies, we compared the two mutants and determined that both affect the dynamic features and double-stranded DNA binding properties of Mre11, but in different ways. In total, our results illuminate the structural and dynamic landscape of Mre11 nuclease function.
- DNA double-strand break repair
- separation of function
- side-chain methyl group