DNA duplex recognition activates Exo1 nuclease activity [DNA and Chromosomes]

June 10th, 2019 by Yuxi Li, Jiangchuan Shen, Hengyao Niu

Exonuclease 1 (Exo1) is an evolutionarily conserved eukaryotic nuclease that plays a multifaceted role in maintaining genome stability. The biochemical attributes of Exo1 have been extensively characterized via conventional assays. However, the key step governing its activation remains elusive. Extending upon a previous finding that Exo1 can digest a randomly selected ssDNA, but not a poly dT oligonucleotide and using purified recombinant Exo1 and nuclease and electrophoretic mobility shift assays, here we determined that DNA hairpins with a stem size of 4 bp or longer are able to activate Exo1-mediated digestion of ssDNA. We further provide evidence suggesting that Exo1 uses an evolutionarily conserved residue, Lys-185. This residue interacted with the phosphate group bridging the third and fourth nucleotide on the digestion strand of the substrate DNA for duplex recognition, critical for Exo1 activation on not only ssDNA, but also dsDNA. Additionally, the defect of an exo1-K185A mutant in duplex digestion was partially rescued by longer overhanging DNA. However, we noted that the enhanced Exo1 nuclease activity by longer overhanging DNA is largely eliminated by replication protein A (RPA), likely due to the previously reported RPA activity that strips Exo1 off the ssDNA. We conclude that duplex DNA contact by Exo1 is a general mechanism that controls its activation and that this mechanism is particularly important for digestion of duplex DNA whose nascent ssDNA is bound by RPA.