Evading the proofreading machinery of a replicative DNA polymerase: Induction of a mutation by an environmental carcinogen

Rebecca A. Perlow, Suse Broyde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


DNA replication fidelity is dictated by DNA polymerase enzymes and associated proteins. When the template DNA is damaged by a carcinogen, the fidelity of DNA replication is sometimes compromized, allowing mispaired bases to persist and be incorporated into the DNA, resulting in a mutation. A key question in chemical carcinogenesis by metabolically activated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is the nature of the interactions between the carcinogen-damaged DNA and the replicating polymerase protein that permits the mutagenic misincorporation to occur. PAHs are environmental carcinogens that, upon metabolic activation, can react with DNA to form bulky covalently linked combination molecules known as carcinogen-DNA adducts. Benzo[a]pyrene (BP) is a common PAH found in a wide range of material ingested by humans, including cigarette smoke, car exhaust, broiled meats and fish, and as a contaminant in other foods. BP is metabolically activated into several highly reactive intermediates, including the highly tumorigenic (+)-anti-benzo[a]pyrene diol epoxide (BPDE). The primary product of the reaction of (+)-anti-BPDE with DNA, the (+)-trans-anti-benzo[a]pyrene diol epoxide-N2-dG ((+)-ta-[BP]G) adduct, is the most mutagenic BP adduct in mammalian systems and primarily causes G-to-T transversion mutations, resulting from the mismatch of adenine with BP-damaged guanine during replication. In order to elucidate the structural characteristics and interactions between the DNA polymerase and carcinogen-damaged DNA that allow a misincorporation opposite a DNA lesion, we have modeled a (+)-ta-[BP]G adduct at a primer-template junction within the replicative phage T7 DNA polymerase containing an incoming dATP, the nucleotide most commonly mismatched with the (+)-ta-[BP]G adduct during replication. A one nanosecond molecular dynamics simulation, using AMBER 5.0, has been carried out, and the resultant trajectory analyzed. The modeling and simulation have revealed that a (+)-ta-[BP]G:A mismatch can be accommodated stably in the active site so that the fidelity mechanisms of the polymerase are evaded and the polymerase accepts the incoming mutagenic base. In this structure, the modified guanine base is in the syn conformation, with the BP moiety positioned in the major groove, without interfering with the normal protein-DNA interactions required for faithful polymerase function. This structure is stabilized by a hydrogen bond between the modified guanine base and dATP partner, hydrophobic interactions between the BP moiety and the polymerase, a hydrogen bond between the modified guanine base and the polymerase, and several hydrogen bonds between the BP moiety and polymerase side-chains. Moreover, the G:A mismatch in this system closely resembles the size and shape of a normal Watson-Crick pair. These features reveal how the polymerase proofreading machinery may be evaded in the presence of a mutagenic carcinogen-damaged DNA, so that a mismatch can be accommodated readily, allowing bypass of the adduct by the replicative T7 DNA polymerase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-536
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2001


  • Benzo[a]pyrene
  • DNA polymerase
  • Environmental carcinogen
  • Molecular dynamics simulations
  • Mutagenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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