Is A Thymine Dimer Replicated Via A Transient Abasic Site Intermediate? A Comparative Study Using Non-Natural Nucleotides

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UV light causes the formation of thymine dimers that can be misreplicated to induce mutagenesis and carcinogenesis. This report describes the use of a series of non-natural indolyl nucleotides in probing the ability of the high-fidelity bacteriophage T4 DNA polymerase to replicate this class of DNA lesion. Kinetic data reveal that indolyl analogues containing large π-electron surface areas are incorporated opposite the thymine dimer almost as effectively as an abasic site, a noninstructional lesion. However, there are notable differences in the kinetic parameters for each DNA lesion that indicate distinct mechanisms for their replication. For example, the rate constants for incorporation opposite a thymine dimer are considerably slower than those measured opposite an abasic site. In addition, the magnitude of these rate constants depends equally upon contributions from π-electron density and the overall size of the analogue. In contrast, binding of a nucleotide opposite a thymine dimer is directly correlated with the overall π-electron surface area of the incoming dXTP. In addition to defining the kinetics of polymerization, we also provide the first reported characterization of the enzymatic removal of natural and non-natural nucleotides paired opposite a thymine dimer through exonuclease degradation or pyrophosphorolysis activity. Surprisingly, the exonuclease activity of the bacteriophage enzyme is activated by a thymine dimer but not by an abasic site. This dichotomy suggests that the polymerase can “sense” bulky lesions to partition the damaged DNA into the exonuclease domain. The data for both nucleotide incorporation and excision are used to propose models accounting for polymerase “switching” during translesion DNA synthesis.


This research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (CA118408) and the Skin Cancer Foundation to A.J.B.