The xeroderma pigmentosum C protein complex (XPC) recognizes a variety of environmentally induced DNA lesions and is the key in initiating their repair by the nucleotide excision repair (NER) pathway. When bound to a lesion, XPC flips two nucleotide pairs that include the lesion out of the DNA duplex, yielding a productively bound complex that can lead to successful lesion excision. Interestingly, the efficiencies of NER vary greatly among different lesions, influencing their toxicity and mutagenicity in cells. Though differences in XPC binding may influence NER efficiency, it is not understood whether XPC utilizes different mechanisms to achieve productive binding with different lesions. Here, we investigated the well-repaired 10R-(+)-cis-anti-benzo[a]pyrene-N2-dG (cis-B[a]P-dG) DNA adduct in a duplex containing normal partner C opposite the lesion. This adduct is derived from the environmental pro-carcinogen benzo[a]pyrene and is likely to be encountered by NER in the cell. We have extensively investigated its binding to the yeast XPC orthologue, Rad4, using umbrella sampling with restrained molecular dynamics simulations and free energy calculations. The NMR solution structure of this lesion in duplex DNA has shown that the dC complementary to the adducted dG is flipped out of the DNA duplex in the absence of XPC. However, it is not known whether the "pre-flipped" base would play a role in its recognition by XPC. Our results show that Rad4 first captures the displaced dC, which is followed by a tightly coupled lesion-extruding pathway for productive binding. This binding path differs significantly from the one deduced for the small cis-syn cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer lesion opposite mismatched thymines [ Mu, H., et al. (2015) Biochemistry, 54 (34), 5263-7 ]. The possibility of multiple paths that lead to productive binding to XPC is consistent with the versatile lesion recognition by XPC that is required for successful NER.
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