A new study provides a mechanistic explanation of how ribonucleotides embedded in genomic DNA are recognized and removed from cells. Two mechanisms, enzymes called ribonucleases (RNases) H and the DNA mismatch repair system, appear to interplay to root out the RNA components.
Storici and Georgia Tech biology graduate students Ying Shen and Kyung Duk Koh conducted the study in collaboration with Bernard Weiss, a professor emeritus in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Emory University.
"We wanted to understand how cells of the bacterium Escherichia coli and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae tolerate the presence of different ribonucleotides embedded in their genomic DNA. We found that the structure of a ribonucleotide tract embedded in DNA influenced its ability to cause genetic mutations more than the tract's length," said Storici.
With double-stranded DNA, when wrong bases are paired or one or few nucleotides are in excess or missing on one of the strands, a mismatch is generated. If mismatches are not corrected, they can lead to mutations.
The researchers found that single mismatched ribonucleotides in chromosomal DNA were removed by either the mismatch repair system or RNase H type 2. Mismatched ribonucleotides in the middle of at least four other ribonucleotides required RNase H type 1 for removal.
Defects in the mismatch repair system are known to predispose a person to certain types of cancer. Because the mismatch repair system is conserved from unicellular to multicellular organisms, such as humans, this study's findings open up the possibility that defects in the mismatch repair system could have consequences more critical than previously thought given the newly identified function of mismatch repair to target RNA/DNA mispairs.
The results also provide new information on the capacity of RNA to play an active role in DNA editing and remodeling, which could be the basis of an unexplored process of RNA-driven DNA evolution.
This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (Award No. MCB-1021763). The content is solely the responsibility of the principal investigators and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF.
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