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Concept: Endonuclease


The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 binds to a guide RNA and cleaves double-stranded DNA with a sequence complementary to the RNA guide. The Cas9-RNA system has been harnessed for numerous applications, such as genome editing. Here we use high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) to visualize the real-space and real-time dynamics of CRISPR-Cas9 in action. HS-AFM movies indicate that, whereas apo-Cas9 adopts unexpected flexible conformations, Cas9-RNA forms a stable bilobed structure and interrogates target sites on the DNA by three-dimensional diffusion. These movies also provide real-time visualization of the Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage process. Notably, the Cas9 HNH nuclease domain fluctuates upon DNA binding, and subsequently adopts an active conformation, where the HNH active site is docked at the cleavage site in the target DNA. Collectively, our HS-AFM data extend our understanding of the action mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Virus, Genome, RNA, Endonuclease


The 16 somatic serotype type strains and 60 field isolates of Pasteurella multocida, representing various avian species and geographic regions in Hungary, were characterised by PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) analysis of the ompH gene with DraI restriction endonuclease. The type strains yielded eight different (I-VIII) profiles. Strains whose PCR fragment was uncut by DraI (profile IV) could be differentiated with HindIII and PvuII restriction endonucleases. Five of the eight PCR-RFLP profiles (I, III, V, VI and VII) were detected among the field strains. Only a correlation of limited strength was found between the classical somatic serotypes and the PCR-RFLP profiles. However, the results confirmed that molecular methods could confidently distinguish serotype A:1 strains from the other serotypes. Moreover, the specific relationship between somatic serotypes and PCR-RFLP types among isolates from turkey raises the possibility of the existence of host-specific clones within the P. multocida population.

Concepts: DNA, Restriction enzyme, Molecular biology, Enzyme, Endonuclease, Pasteurella multocida, HindIII, Restriction enzymes


Prokaryotes encode various host defense systems that provide protection against mobile genetic elements. Restriction-modification (R-M) and CRISPR-Cas systems mediate host defense by sequence specific targeting of invasive DNA. T-even bacteriophages employ covalent modifications of nucleobases to avoid binding and therefore cleavage of their DNA by restriction endonucleases. Here, we describe that DNA glucosylation of bacteriophage genomes affects interference of some but not all CRISPR-Cas systems. We show that glucosyl modification of 5-hydroxymethylated cytosines in the DNA of bacteriophage T4 interferes with type I-E and type II-A CRISPR-Cas systems by lowering the affinity of the Cascade and Cas9-crRNA complexes for their target DNA. On the contrary, the type V-A nuclease Cas12a (also known as Cpf1) is not impaired in binding and cleavage of glucosylated target DNA, likely due to a more open structural architecture of the protein. Our results suggest that CRISPR-Cas systems have contributed to the selective pressure on phages to develop more generic solutions to escape sequence specific host defense systems.

Concepts: DNA, Restriction enzyme, Bacteria, Microbiology, Virus, Genome, Bacteriophage, Endonuclease


Engineered endonucleases are a powerful tool for editing DNA. However, sequence preferences may limit their application. We engineer a structure-guided endonuclease (SGN) composed of flap endonuclease-1 (FEN-1), which recognizes the 3' flap structure, and the cleavage domain of Fok I (Fn1), which cleaves DNA strands. The SGN recognizes the target DNA on the basis of the 3' flap structure formed between the target and the guide DNA (gDNA) and cut the target through its Fn1 dimerization. Our results show that the SGN, guided by a pair of gDNAs, cleaves transgenic reporter gene and endogenous genes in zebrafish embryonic genome.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Organism, Genome, Endonuclease


Herein we report the synthesis of tripodal C3-symmetric opioid scaffolds as high-affinity condensation agents of duplex DNA. Condensation was achieved on both supercoiled and canonical B-DNA structures and identified by agarose electrophoresis, viscosity, turbidity and atomic force microscopy (AFM) measurements. Structurally, the requirement of a tris-opioid scaffold for condensation is demonstrated as both di- (C2-symmetric) and mono-substituted (C1-symmetric) mesitylene-linked opioid derivatives poorly coordinate dsDNA. Condensation, observed by toroidal and globule AFM aggregation, arises from surface-binding ionic interactions between protonated, cationic, tertiary amine groups on the opioid skeleton and the phosphate nucleic acid backbone. Indeed, by converting the 6-hydroxyl group of C3-morphine ( MC3: ) to methoxy substituents in C3-heterocodeine ( HC3: ) and C3-oripavine ( OC3: ) molecules, dsDNA compaction is retained thus negating the possibility of phosphate-hydroxyl surface-binding. Tripodal opioid condensation was identified as pH dependent and strongly influenced by ionic strength with further evidence of cationic amine-phosphate backbone coordination arising from thermal melting analysis and circular dichroism spectroscopy, with compaction also witnessed on synthetic dsDNA co-polymers poly[d(A-T)2] and poly[d(G-C)2]. On-chip microfluidic analysis of DNA condensed by C3-agents provided concentration-dependent protection (inhibition) to site-selective excision by type II restriction enzymes: BamHI, HindIII, SalI and EcoRI, but not to the endonuclease DNase I.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Restriction enzyme, Amino acid, Amine, Molecular biology, Nucleic acid, Endonuclease


Cpf1 is an RNA-guided endonuclease that is emerging as a powerful genome-editing tool. Here we provide insight into its DNA-targeting mechanism by determining the structure of Francisella novicida Cpf1 with the triple-stranded R-loop generated after DNA cleavage. The structure reveals the machinery involved in DNA unwinding to form a CRISPR RNA (crRNA)-DNA hybrid and a displaced DNA strand. The protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) is recognized by the PAM-interacting domain. The loop-lysine helix-loop motif in this domain contains three conserved lysine residues that are inserted in a dentate manner into the double-stranded DNA. Unzipping of the double-stranded DNA occurs in a cleft arranged by acidic and hydrophobic residues facilitating the crRNA-DNA hybrid formation. The PAM single-stranded DNA is funnelled towards the nuclease site through a mixed hydrophobic and basic cavity. In this catalytic conformation, the PAM-interacting domain and the helix-loop-helix motif in the REC1 domain adopt a ‘rail’ shape and ‘flap-on’ conformations, respectively, channelling the PAM strand into the cavity. A steric barrier between the RuvC-II and REC1 domains forms the ‘septum’, separating the displaced PAM strand and the crRNA-DNA hybrid, avoiding DNA re-annealing. Mutations in key residues reveal a mechanism linking the PAM and DNA nuclease sites. Analysis of the Cpf1 structures proposes a singular working model of RNA-guided DNA cleavage, suggesting new avenues for redesign of Cpf1.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Base pair, Nucleotide, Nuclease, Endonuclease


Human EXOG (hEXOG) is a 5'-exonuclease that is crucial for mitochondrial DNA repair; the enzyme belongs to a nonspecific nuclease family that includes the apoptotic endonuclease EndoG. Here we report biochemical and structural studies of hEXOG, including structures in its apo form and in a complex with DNA at 1.81 and 1.85 Å resolution, respectively. A Wing domain, absent in other ββα-Me members, suppresses endonuclease activity, but confers on hEXOG a strong 5'-dsDNA exonuclease activity that precisely excises a dinucleotide using an intrinsic ‘tape-measure’. The symmetrical apo hEXOG homodimer becomes asymmetrical upon binding to DNA, providing a structural basis for how substrate DNA bound to one active site allosterically regulates the activity of the other. These properties of hEXOG suggest a pathway for mitochondrial BER that provides an optimal substrate for subsequent gap-filling synthesis by DNA polymerase γ.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, Adenosine triphosphate, Enzyme, Mitochondrial DNA, DNA polymerase, Endonuclease, Exonuclease


The CRISPR/Cas9 nuclease is commonly used to make gene knockouts. The blunt DNA ends generated by cleavage can be efficiently ligated by the classical nonhomologous end-joining repair pathway (c-NHEJ), regenerating the target site. This repair creates a cycle of cleavage, ligation, and target site regeneration that persists until sufficient modification of the DNA break by alternative NHEJ prevents further Cas9 cutting, generating a heterogeneous population of insertions and deletions typical of gene knockouts. Here, we develop a strategy to escape this cycle and bias events toward defined length deletions by creating an RNA-guided dual active site nuclease that generates two noncompatible DNA breaks at a target site, effectively deleting the majority of the target site such that it cannot be regenerated. The TevCas9 nuclease, a fusion of the I-TevI nuclease domain to Cas9, functions robustly in HEK293 cells and generates 33- to 36-bp deletions at frequencies up to 40%. Deep sequencing revealed minimal processing of TevCas9 products, consistent with protection of the DNA ends from exonucleolytic degradation and repair by the c-NHEJ pathway. Directed evolution experiments identified I-TevI variants with broadened targeting range, making TevCas9 an easy-to-use reagent. Our results highlight how the sequence-tolerant cleavage properties of the I-TevI homing endonuclease can be harnessed to enhance Cas9 applications, circumventing the cleavage and ligation cycle and biasing genome-editing events toward defined length deletions.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Restriction enzyme, Molecular biology, Regeneration, The Target, Endonuclease


MRE11 within the MRE11-RAD50-NBS1 (MRN) complex acts in DNA double-strand break repair (DSBR), detection, and signaling; yet, how its endo- and exonuclease activities regulate DSBR by nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) versus homologous recombination (HR) remains enigmatic. Here, we employed structure-based design with a focused chemical library to discover specific MRE11 endo- or exonuclease inhibitors. With these inhibitors, we examined repair pathway choice at DSBs generated in G2 following radiation exposure. While nuclease inhibition impairs radiation-induced replication protein A (RPA) chromatin binding, suggesting diminished resection, the inhibitors surprisingly direct different repair outcomes. Endonuclease inhibition promotes NHEJ in lieu of HR, while exonuclease inhibition confers a repair defect. Collectively, the results describe nuclease-specific MRE11 inhibitors, define distinct nuclease roles in DSB repair, and support a mechanism whereby MRE11 endonuclease initiates resection, thereby licensing HR followed by MRE11 exonuclease and EXO1/BLM bidirectional resection toward and away from the DNA end, which commits to HR.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, DNA repair, Homologous recombination, DNA replication, Endonuclease, Exonuclease, Replication protein A


Rare-cleaving endonucleases have emerged as important tools for making targeted genome modifications. While multiple platforms are now available to generate reagents for research applications, each existing platform has significant limitations in one or more of three key properties necessary for therapeutic application: efficiency of cleavage at the desired target site, specificity of cleavage (i.e. rate of cleavage at ‘off-target’ sites), and efficient/facile means for delivery to desired target cells. Here, we describe the development of a single-chain rare-cleaving nuclease architecture, which we designate ‘megaTAL’, in which the DNA binding region of a transcription activator-like (TAL) effector is used to ‘address’ a site-specific meganuclease adjacent to a single desired genomic target site. This architecture allows the generation of extremely active and hyper-specific compact nucleases that are compatible with all current viral and nonviral cell delivery methods.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Genome, Engineering, Nuclease, Endonuclease