DNA-protein cross-links (DPCs) are unusually bulky DNA lesions that form when cellular proteins become trapped on DNA following exposure to ultraviolet light, free radicals, aldehydes, and transition metals. DPCs can also form endogenously when naturally occurring epigenetic marks [5-formyl cytosine (5fC)] in DNA react with lysine and arginine residues of histones to form Schiff base conjugates. Our previous studies revealed that DPCs inhibit DNA replication and transcription but can undergo proteolytic cleavage to produce smaller DNA-peptide conjugates. We have shown that 5fC-conjugated DNA-peptide cross-links (DpCs) placed within the CXA sequence (X = DpC) can be bypassed by human translesion synthesis (TLS) polymerases η and κ in an error-prone manner. However, the local nucleotide sequence context can have a strong effect on replication bypass of bulky lesions by influencing the geometry of the ternary complex among the DNA template, polymerase, and the incoming dNTP. In this work, we investigated polymerase bypass of 5fC-DNA-11-mer peptide cross-links placed in seven different sequence contexts (CXC, CXG, CXT, CXA, AXA, GXA, and TXA) in the presence of human TLS polymerase η. Primer extension products were analyzed by gel electrophoresis, and steady-state kinetics of the misincorporation of dAMP opposite the DpC lesion in different base sequence contexts was investigated. Our results revealed a strong impact of nearest neighbor base identity on polymerase η activity in the absence and presence of a DpC lesion. Molecular dynamics simulations were used to structurally explain the experimental findings. Our results suggest a possible role of local DNA sequence in promoting TLS-related mutational hot spots in the presence and absence of DpC lesions.
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