A novel mechanism is unveiled to explain why a pro-mutagenic nucleotide lesion (oxidized guanine, 8-oxoG) causes the mammalian DNA repair polymerase-β (pol-β) to rapidly transition to an inactive open conformation. The mechanism involves unexpected features revealed recently in time-lapse crystallography. Specifically, a delicate water network associated with a lesion-stabilizing auxilliary product ion Mg(p) triggers a cascade of events that leads to poor active site geometry and the rupture of crucial molecular interactions between key residues in both the anti(8-oxoG:C) and syn(8-oxoG:A) systems. Once the base pairs in these lesioned systems are broken, dislocation of both Asp192 (a metal coordinating ligand) and the oxoG phosphate group (PO4) interfere with the hydrogen bonding between Asp192 and Arg258, whose rotation toward Asp192 is crucial to the closed-to-open enzyme transition. Energetically, the lesioned open states are similar in energy to those of the corresponding closed complexes after chemistry, in marked contrast to the unlesioned pol-β anti(G:C) system, whose open state is energetically higher than the closed state. The delicate surveillance system offers a fundamental protective mechanism in the cell that triggers DNA repair events which help deter insertion of oxidized lesions.
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