While the protein structure of these topoisomerases is known, the details of the chemical reactions that take place between the enzyme and DNA, and their reaction with the drugs that bind both, remain a mystery, Berger said. In fact, one of the main puzzles is why antibiotics like ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and anti-cancer drugs like etoposide, which vary widely in structure, have the same effect: jamming the enzyme and causing a break in the double-stranded DNA helix.
Berger and his colleagues found a way to obtain a picture that shows the interaction of the protein bound to DNA. The next step is to do the same for a drug bound to the protein/DNA complex, getting an image of exactly how these drugs interfere with the knot elimination machinery.
"The technique we used to trap this complex so that we could actually crystallize it and image it we think now gives us a handle on how to go after drug-bound complexes of human topoisomerases that have long eluded the field," said Berger, who also is a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).
The scientists' new picture of the enzyme bound to DNA also turned up something totally unexpected. Most enzymes that bind DNA to snip or stitch it together use two metal ions typically two magnesium ions to catalyze the reaction. Berger found that type II topoisomerases, which target double-stranded DNA, make use of only one of their two magnesium ions and instead use the amino acid arginine as their second catalytic center. The second magnesium merely provides structural integrity to the protein.
"We stumbled upon a new kind of cleavage mechanism for DNA, an example of a protein that uses a completely new approach for the same mechanism," Berger said. "It speaks to the evolutionary plasticity and adaptability of nature that continuously amazes us with finding new ways to carry out reactions that it needs to perform."
Berger now plans
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley