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Concept: Uracil


Binding specificity of Cas9-guide RNA complexes to DNA is important for genome-engineering applications; however, how mismatches influence target recognition/rejection kinetics is not well understood. Here we used single-molecule FRET to probe real-time interactions between Cas9-RNA and DNA targets. The bimolecular association rate is only weakly dependent on sequence; however, the dissociation rate greatly increases from <0.006 s(-1) to >2 s(-1) upon introduction of mismatches proximal to protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM), demonstrating that mismatches encountered early during heteroduplex formation induce rapid rejection of off-target DNA. In contrast, PAM-distal mismatches up to 11 base pairs in length, which prevent DNA cleavage, still allow formation of a stable complex (dissociation rate <0.006 s(-1)), suggesting that extremely slow rejection could sequester Cas9-RNA, increasing the Cas9 expression level necessary for genome-editing, thereby aggravating off-target effects. We also observed at least two different bound FRET states that may represent distinct steps in target search and proofreading.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Transcription, Base pair, Nucleotide, Uracil, Reaction rate


The molecular recognition and discrimination of very similar ligand moieties by proteins are important subjects in protein-ligand interaction studies. Specificity in the recognition of molecules is determined by the arrangement of protein and ligand atoms in space. The three pyrimidine bases, viz. cytosine, thymine, and uracil, are structurally similar, but the proteins that bind to them are able to discriminate them and form interactions. Since nonbonded interactions are responsible for molecular recognition processes in biological systems, our work attempts to understand some of the underlying principles of such recognition of pyrimidine molecular structures by proteins. The preferences of the amino acid residues to contact the pyrimidine bases in terms of nonbonded interactions; amino acid residue-ligand atom preferences; main chain and side chain atom contributions of amino acid residues; and solvent-accessible surface area of ligand atoms when forming complexes are analyzed. Our analysis shows that the amino acid residues, tyrosine and phenyl alanine, are highly involved in the pyrimidine interactions. Arginine prefers contacts with the cytosine base. The similarities and differences that exist between the interactions of the amino acid residues with each of the three pyrimidine base atoms in our analysis provide insights that can be exploited in designing specific inhibitors competitive to the ligands.

Concepts: DNA, Amino acid, Acid, Ammonia, RNA, Molecule, Pyrimidine, Uracil


N6-Methyladenosine (m6A) is the most prevalent internal RNA modification in eukaryotes. ALKBH5 belongs to the AlkB family of dioxygenases and has been shown to specifically demethylate m6A in single stranded RNA. Here we report crystal structures of ALKBH5 in the presence of either its cofactors or the ALKBH5 inhibitor citrate. Catalytic assays demonstrate that the ALKBH5 catalytic domain can demethylate both ssRNA and ssDNA. We identify the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle intermediate citrate as a modest inhibitor of ALKHB5 (IC50: ~488 μM). The structural analysis reveals that a loop region of ALKBH5 is immobilized by a disulfide bond which apparently excludes the binding of dsDNA to ALKBH5. We identify the m6A binding pocket of ALKBH5 and the key residues involved in m6A recognition using mutagenesis and ITC binding experiments.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Enzyme, RNA, Nucleotide, Uracil


N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modification is hypothesized to control processes such as RNA degradation, localization and splicing. However, the molecular mechanisms by which this occurs are unclear. Here we measured structures of an RNA duplex containing m6A in the GGACU consensus, along with an unmodified RNA control, by 2D-NMR. The data show that m6A-U pairing in the double-stranded context is accompanied by the methylamino group rotating from its energetically preferred syn geometry on the Watson-Crick face to the higher-energy anti conformation, positioning the methyl group in the major groove. Thermodynamic measurements of m6A in duplexes reveal that it is destabilizing by 0.5-1.7 kcal•mol-1. In contrast, we show that m6A in unpaired positions base stacks considerably more strongly than the unmodified base, adding substantial stabilization in single-stranded locations. Transcriptome-wide nuclease mapping of methylated RNA secondary structure from human cells reveals a structural transition at methylated adenosines, with a tendency to single-stranded structure adjacent to the modified base.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Base pair, Structure, System, Nucleotide, Uracil


The B-DNA double helix can dynamically accommodate G-C and A-T base pairs in either Watson-Crick or Hoogsteen configurations. Here, we show that G-C(+) (in which + indicates protonation) and A-U Hoogsteen base pairs are strongly disfavored in A-RNA. As a result,N(1)-methyladenosine and N(1)-methylguanosine, which occur in DNA as a form of alkylation damage and in RNA as post-transcriptional modifications, have dramatically different consequences. Whereas they create G-C(+) and A-T Hoogsteen base pairs in duplex DNA, thereby maintaining the structural integrity of the double helix, they block base-pairing and induce local duplex melting in RNA. These observations provide a mechanism for disrupting RNA structure through post-transcriptional modifications. The different propensities to form Hoogsteen base pairs in B-DNA and A-RNA may help cells meet the opposing requirements of maintaining genome stability, on the one hand, and of dynamically modulating the structure of the epitranscriptome, on the other.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Transcription, Genome, Base pair, Nucleotide, Uracil


The oligonucleotide d(TX)9 , which consists of an octadecamer sequence with alternating non-canonical 7-deazaadenine (X) and canonical thymine (T) as the nucleobases, was synthesized and shown to hybridize into double-stranded DNA through the formation of hydrogen-bonded Watson-Crick base pairs. dsDNA with metal-mediated base pairs was then obtained by selectively replacing W-C hydrogen bonds by coordination bonds to central silver(I) ions. The oligonucleotide I adopts a duplex structure in the absence of Ag(+) ions, and its stability is significantly enhanced in the presence of Ag(+) ions while its double-helix structure is retained. Temperature-dependent UV spectroscopy, circular dichroism spectroscopy, and ESI mass spectrometry were used to confirm the selective formation of the silver(I)-mediated base pairs. This strategy could become useful for preparing stable metallo-DNA-based nanostructures.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Ultraviolet, Base pair, Hydrogen bond, Nucleotide, Uracil


APOBEC-catalyzed cytosine-to-uracil deamination of single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) has beneficial functions in immunity and detrimental effects in cancer. APOBEC enzymes have intrinsic dinucleotide specificities that impart hallmark mutation signatures. Although numerous structures have been solved, mechanisms for global ssDNA recognition and local target-sequence selection remain unclear. Here we report crystal structures of human APOBEC3A and a chimera of human APOBEC3B and APOBEC3A bound to ssDNA at 3.1-Å and 1.7-Å resolution, respectively. These structures reveal a U-shaped DNA conformation, with the specificity-conferring -1 thymine flipped out and the target cytosine inserted deep into the zinc-coordinating active site pocket. The -1 thymine base fits into a groove between flexible loops and makes direct hydrogen bonds with the protein, accounting for the strong 5'-TC preference. These findings explain both conserved and unique properties among APOBEC family members, and they provide a basis for the rational design of inhibitors to impede the evolvability of viruses and tumors.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Mutation, Base pair, Hydrogen bond, Uracil, Cytosine


Cpf1 is an RNA-guided endonuclease of a type V CRISPR-Cas system that has been recently harnessed for genome editing. Here, we report the crystal structure of Acidaminococcus sp. Cpf1 (AsCpf1) in complex with the guide RNA and its target DNA at 2.8 Å resolution. AsCpf1 adopts a bilobed architecture, with the RNA-DNA heteroduplex bound inside the central channel. The structural comparison of AsCpf1 with Cas9, a type II CRISPR-Cas nuclease, reveals both striking similarity and major differences, thereby explaining their distinct functionalities. AsCpf1 contains the RuvC domain and a putative novel nuclease domain, which are responsible for cleaving the non-target and target strands, respectively, and for jointly generating staggered DNA double-strand breaks. AsCpf1 recognizes the 5'-TTTN-3' protospacer adjacent motif by base and shape readout mechanisms. Our findings provide mechanistic insights into RNA-guided DNA cleavage by Cpf1 and establish a framework for rational engineering of the CRISPR-Cpf1 toolbox.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genome, RNA, Base pair, Nucleotide, Uracil


Targeted base editing in plants without the need for a foreign DNA donor or double-stranded DNA cleavage would accelerate genome modification and breeding in a wide array of crops. We used a CRISPR-Cas9 nickase-cytidine deaminase fusion to achieve targeted conversion of cytosine to thymine from position 3 to 9 within the protospacer in both protoplasts and regenerated rice, wheat and maize plants at frequencies of up to 43.48%.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genome, RNA, Base pair, Uracil, Cytosine


Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are prominently associated with chromosomes in an ever-increasing diversity of roles. To provide further insight into the potential nature of these associations, we have explored, for the first time, the interaction of long single-stranded (ss) RNAs with cognate homologous double-stranded (ds) DNA in vitro Using magnetic tweezers, we measured the effects of ssRNA on force extension curves for dsDNA. We observe that the presence of ssRNA impedes the extension of dsDNA, specifically at low forces, dependent on homology between the RNA and DNA species, and dependent on ssRNA lengths (≥1 kb). The observed effect also depends on the concentration of ssRNA and is abolished by overstretching of the dsDNA. These findings show that significant homologous contacts can occur between long ssRNA and dsDNA in the absence of protein and that these contacts alter the mechanical properties of the dsDNA. We propose that long ssRNA interacts paranemically with long dsDNA via periodic short homologous interactions, e.g. mediated by RNA/DNA triplex-formation, and that dsDNA extension is impeded by formation of RNA secondary structure in the intervening unbound regions. Analogous interactions in vivo would permit lncRNAs to mediate the juxtaposition of two or more DNA regions on the same or different chromosomes.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Transcription, RNA, Nucleotide, Uracil