Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
DNA helicases are ubiquitous enzymes that catalyse the unwinding of duplex DNA during replication, recombination and repair. These enzymes have been studied extensively; however, the specific details of how any helicase unwinds duplex DNA are unknown. Although it is clear that not all helicases unwind duplex DNA in an identical way, many helicases possess similar properties, which are thus likely to be of general importance to their mechanism of action. For example, since helicases appear generally to be oligomeric enzymes, the hypothesis is presented in this review that the functionally active forms of DNA helicases are oligomeric. The oligomeric nature of helicases provides them with multiple DNA-binding sites, allowing the transient formation of ternary structures, such that at an unwinding fork, the helicase can bind either single-stranded and duplex DNA simultaneously or two strands of single-stranded DNA. Modulation of the relative affinities of these binding sites for single-stranded versus duplex DNA through ATP binding and hydrolysis would then provide the basis for a cycling mechanism for processive unwinding of DNA by helicases. The properties of the Escherichia coli DNA helicases are reviewed and possible mechanisms by which helicases might unwind duplex DNA are discussed in view of their oligomeric structures, with emphasis on the E. coli Rep, RecBCD and phage T7 gene 4 helicases.
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