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Just a little squeeze lets proteins assess DNA

To find its target, all a protein needs to do is give quick squeezes as it moves along the DNA strand, suggests new research from The University of Arizona in Tucson.

Scientists had thought DNA-binding proteins primarily used full-body hugs for accurate readings of the information coded in the DNA's sequence.

Even a protein known to use the hug method, called direct readout, can effectively pinpoint sites on DNA using indirect readout, found researcher Nancy C. Horton and her colleagues.

"It was a total surprise," said Horton, a UA associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. "No one had ever seen it before."

Doing the quick squeezes that scientists call indirect readout probably works faster than requiring full-body contact with all the DNA, the researchers suggest. Quick and accurate identification of key sites on DNA is important for the health of all kinds of cells, from bacteria to humans.

To detect the protein-DNA connection in such detail, Horton and her co-authors Elizabeth J. Little and Andrea C. Babic studied a DNA-binding protein that bacteria use to protect themselves from viral infections.

The finding has implications for the development of designer drugs.

"People have and are developing DNA-binding proteins to turn genes on and off," Horton said. Such designer proteins can be used to cut out the bad copy of a gene and help replace it with good copy.

"We found that indirect readout is important for finding the right sequence, and we now think indirect readout is also important for finding it quickly," she said.

The team published their paper, "Early Interrogation and Recognition of DNA Sequence by Indirect Readout," in the December issue of the journal Structure. First author Little and co-author Babic were postdoctoral research associates in Horton's laboratory when they did the research. The two are now senior scientists at Ventana M

Contact: Mari N. Jensen
University of Arizona

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