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1.  Bioinformatic mapping of AlkB homology domains in viruses 
BMC Genomics  2005;6:1.
AlkB-like proteins are members of the 2-oxoglutarate- and Fe(II)-dependent oxygenase superfamily. In Escherichia coli the protein protects RNA and DNA against damage from methylating agents. 1-methyladenine and 3-methylcytosine are repaired by oxidative demethylation and direct reversal of the methylated base back to its unmethylated form. Genes for AlkB homologues are widespread in nature, and Eukaryotes often have several genes coding for AlkB-like proteins. Similar domains have also been observed in certain plant viruses. The function of the viral domain is unknown, but it has been suggested that it may be involved in protecting the virus against the post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) system found in plants. We wanted to do a phylogenomic mapping of viral AlkB-like domains as a basis for analysing functional aspects of these domains, because this could have some relevance for understanding possible alternative roles of AlkB homologues e.g. in Eukaryotes.
Profile-based searches of protein sequence libraries showed that AlkB-like domains are found in at least 22 different single-stranded RNA positive-strand plant viruses, but mainly in a subgroup of the Flexiviridae family. Sequence analysis indicated that the AlkB domains probably are functionally conserved, and that they most likely have been integrated relatively recently into several viral genomes at geographically distinct locations. This pattern seems to be more consistent with increased environmental pressure, e.g. from methylating pesticides, than with interaction with the PTGS system.
The AlkB domain found in viral genomes is most likely a conventional DNA/RNA repair domain that protects the viral RNA genome against methylating compounds from the environment.
PMCID: PMC544882  PMID: 15627404
2.  A Non-Heme Iron-Mediated Chemical Demethylation in DNA and RNA 
Accounts of chemical research  2009;42(4):519-529.
DNA methylation is arguably one of the most important chemical signals in biology. However, aberrant DNA methylation can lead to cytotoxic or mutagenic consequences. A DNA repair protein in Escherichia coli, AlkB, corrects some of the unwanted methylations of DNA bases by a unique oxidative demethylation in which the methyl carbon is liberated as formaldehyde. The enzyme also repairs exocyclic DNA lesions—that is, derivatives in which the base is augmented with an additional heterocyclic subunit—by a similar mechanism. Two proteins in humans that are homologous to AlkB, ABH2 and ABH3, repair the same spectrum of lesions; another human homologue of AlkB, FTO, is linked to obesity. In this Account, we describe our studies of AlkB, ABH2, and ABH3, including our development of a general strategy to trap homogeneous protein–DNA complexes through active-site disulfide cross-linking.
AlkB uses a non-heme mononuclear iron(II) and the cofactors 2-ketoglutarate (2KG) and dioxygen to effect oxidative demethylation of the DNA base lesions 1-methyladenine (1-meA), 3-methylcytosine (3-meC), 1-methylguanine (1-meG), and 3-methylthymine (3-meT). ABH3, like AlkB, works better on single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) and is capable of repairing damaged bases in RNA. Conversely, ABH2 primarily repairs lesions in double-stranded DNA (dsDNA); it is the main housekeeping enzyme that protects the mammalian genome from 1-meA base damage.
The AlkB-family proteins have moderate affinities for their substrates and bind DNA in a non-sequence-specific manner. Knowing that these proteins flip the damaged base out from the duplex DNA and insert it into the active site for further processing, we first engineered a disulfide cross-link in the active site to stabilize the Michaelis complex. Based on the detailed structural information afforded by the active-site cross-linked structures, we can readily install a cross-link away from the active site to obtain the native-like structures of these complexes. The crystal structures show a distinct base-flipping feature in AlkB and establish ABH2 as a dsDNA repair protein. They also provide a molecular framework for understanding the demethylation reaction catalyzed by these proteins and help to explain their substrate preferences. The chemical cross-linking method demonstrated here can be applied to trap other labile protein–DNA interactions and can serve as a general strategy for exploring the structural and functional aspects of base-flipping proteins.
PMCID: PMC2920458  PMID: 19852088
3.  Bioinformatics and functional analysis define four distinct groups of AlkB DNA-dioxygenases in bacteria 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(21):7124-7136.
The iron(II)- and 2-oxoglutarate (2OG)-dependent dioxygenase AlkB from Escherichia coli (EcAlkB) repairs alkylation damage in DNA by direct reversal. EcAlkB substrates include methylated bases, such as 1-methyladenine (m1A) and 3-methylcytosine (m3C), as well as certain bulkier lesions, for example the exocyclic adduct 1,N6-ethenoadenine (εA). EcAlkB is the only bacterial AlkB protein characterized to date, and we here present an extensive bioinformatics and functional analysis of bacterial AlkB proteins. Based on sequence phylogeny, we show that these proteins can be subdivided into four groups: denoted 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B; each characterized by the presence of specific conserved amino acid residues in the putative nucleotide-recognizing domain. A scattered distribution of AlkB proteins from the four different groups across the bacterial kingdom indicates a substantial degree of horizontal transfer of AlkB genes. DNA repair activity was associated with all tested recombinant AlkB proteins. Notably, both a group 2B protein from Xanthomonas campestris and a group 2A protein from Rhizobium etli repaired etheno adducts, but had negligible activity on methylated bases. Our data indicate that the majority, if not all, of the bacterial AlkB proteins are DNA repair enzymes, and that some of these proteins do not primarily target methylated bases.
PMCID: PMC2790896  PMID: 19786499
4.  Repair of 3-methylthymine and 1-methylguanine lesions by bacterial and human AlkB proteins 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(21):6260-6267.
The Escherichia coli AlkB protein repairs 1-methyladenine (1-meA) and 3-methylcytosine (3-meC) lesions in DNA and RNA by oxidative demethylation, a reaction requiring ferrous iron and 2-oxoglutarate as cofactor and co-substrate, respectively. Here, we have studied the activity of AlkB proteins on 3-methylthymine (3-meT) and 1-methylguanine (1-meG), two minor lesions which are structurally analogous to 1-meA and 3-meC. AlkB as well as the human AlkB homologues, hABH2 and hABH3, were all able to demethylate 3-meT in a DNA oligonucleotide containing a single 3-meT residue. Also, 1-meG lesions introduced by chemical methylation of tRNA were efficiently removed by AlkB. Unlike 1-meA and 3-meC, nucleosides or bases corresponding to 1-meG or 3-meT did not stimulate the uncoupled, AlkB-mediated decarboxylation of 2-oxoglutarate. Our data show that 3-meT and 1-meG are repaired by AlkB, but indicate that the recognition of these substrates is different from that in the case of 1-meA and 3-meC.
PMCID: PMC535673  PMID: 15576352
5.  Structural and Mutational Analysis of Escherichia coli AlkB Provides Insight into Substrate Specificity and DNA Damage Searching 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(1):e8680.
In Escherichia coli, cytotoxic DNA methyl lesions on the N1 position of purines and N3 position of pyrimidines are primarily repaired by the 2-oxoglutarate (2-OG) iron(II) dependent dioxygenase, AlkB. AlkB repairs 1-methyladenine (1-meA) and 3-methylcytosine (3-meC) lesions, but it also repairs 1-methylguanine (1-meG) and 3-methylthymine (3-meT) at a much less efficient rate. How the AlkB enzyme is able to locate and identify methylated bases in ssDNA has remained an open question.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We determined the crystal structures of the E. coli AlkB protein holoenzyme and the AlkB-ssDNA complex containing a 1-meG lesion. We coupled this to site-directed mutagenesis of amino acids in and around the active site, and tested the effects of these mutations on the ability of the protein to bind both damaged and undamaged DNA, as well as catalyze repair of a methylated substrate.
A comparison of our substrate-bound AlkB-ssDNA complex with our unliganded holoenzyme reveals conformational changes of residues within the active site that are important for binding damaged bases. Site-directed mutagenesis of these residues reveals novel insight into their roles in DNA damage recognition and repair. Our data support a model that the AlkB protein utilizes at least two distinct conformations in searching and binding methylated bases within DNA: a “searching” mode and “repair” mode. Moreover, we are able to functionally separate these modes through mutagenesis of residues that affect one or the other binding state. Finally, our mutagenesis experiments show that amino acid D135 of AlkB participates in both substrate specificity and catalysis.
PMCID: PMC2800194  PMID: 20084272
6.  Interaction of human and bacterial AlkB proteins with DNA as probed through chemical cross-linking studies 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(4):1548-1554.
The Escherichia coli AlkB protein was recently found to repair cytotoxic DNA lesions 1-methyladenine and 3-methylcytosine by using a novel iron-catalyzed oxidative demethylation mechanism. Three human homologs, ABH1, ABH2 and ABH3, have been identified, and two of them, ABH2 and ABH3, were shown to have similar repair activities to E.coli AlkB. However, ABH1 did not show any repair activity. It was suggested that ABH3 prefers single-stranded DNA and RNA substrates, whereas AlkB and ABH2 can repair damage in both single- and double-stranded DNA. We employed a chemical cross-linking approach to probe the structure and substrate preferences of AlkB and its three human homologs. The putative active site iron ligands in these proteins were mutated to cysteine residues. These mutant proteins were used to cross-link to different DNA probes bearing thiol-tethered bases. Disulfide-linked protein–DNA complexes can be trapped and analyzed by SDS–PAGE. Our results show that ABH2 and ABH3 have structural and functional similarities to E.coli AlkB. ABH3 shows preference for the single-stranded DNA probe. ABH1 failed to cross-link to the probes tested. This protein, unlike other AlkB proteins, does not seem to interact with DNA in its E.coli expressed form.
PMCID: PMC390304  PMID: 15004242
7.  Pseudomonas putida AlkA and AlkB Proteins Comprise Different Defense Systems for the Repair of Alkylation Damage to DNA – In Vivo, In Vitro, and In Silico Studies 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e76198.
Alkylating agents introduce cytotoxic and/or mutagenic lesions to DNA bases leading to induction of adaptive (Ada) response, a mechanism protecting cells against deleterious effects of environmental chemicals. In Escherichia coli, the Ada response involves expression of four genes: ada, alkA, alkB, and aidB. In Pseudomonas putida, the organization of Ada regulon is different, raising questions regarding regulation of Ada gene expression. The aim of the presented studies was to analyze the role of AlkA glycosylase and AlkB dioxygenase in protecting P. putida cells against damage to DNA caused by alkylating agents. The results of bioinformatic analysis, of survival and mutagenesis of methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) or N-methyl-N’-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine (MNNG) treated P. putida mutants in ada, alkA and alkB genes as well as assay of promoter activity revealed diverse roles of Ada, AlkA and AlkB proteins in protecting cellular DNA against alkylating agents. We found AlkA protein crucial to abolish the cytotoxic but not the mutagenic effects of alkylans since: (i) the mutation in the alkA gene was the most deleterious for MMS/MNNG treated P. putida cells, (ii) the activity of the alkA promoter was Ada-dependent and the highest among the tested genes. P. putida AlkB (PpAlkB), characterized by optimal conditions for in vitro repair of specific substrates, complementation assay, and M13/MS2 survival test, allowed to establish conservation of enzymatic function of P. putida and E. coli AlkB protein. We found that the organization of P. putida Ada regulon differs from that of E. coli. AlkA protein induced within the Ada response is crucial for protecting P. putida against cytotoxicity, whereas Ada prevents the mutagenic action of alkylating agents. In contrast to E. coli AlkB (EcAlkB), PpAlkB remains beyond the Ada regulon and is expressed constitutively. It probably creates a backup system that protects P. putida strains defective in other DNA repair systems against alkylating agents of exo- and endogenous origin.
PMCID: PMC3788762  PMID: 24098441
8.  Novel AlkB Dioxygenases—Alternative Models for In Silico and In Vivo Studies 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30588.
ALKBH proteins, the homologs of Escherichia coli AlkB dioxygenase, constitute a direct, single-protein repair system, protecting cellular DNA and RNA against the cytotoxic and mutagenic activity of alkylating agents, chemicals significantly contributing to tumor formation and used in cancer therapy. In silico analysis and in vivo studies have shown the existence of AlkB homologs in almost all organisms. Nine AlkB homologs (ALKBH1–8 and FTO) have been identified in humans. High ALKBH levels have been found to encourage tumor development, questioning the use of alkylating agents in chemotherapy. The aim of this work was to assign biological significance to multiple AlkB homologs by characterizing their activity in the repair of nucleic acids in prokaryotes and their subcellular localization in eukaryotes.
Methodology and Findings
Bioinformatic analysis of protein sequence databases identified 1943 AlkB sequences with eight new AlkB subfamilies. Since Cyanobacteria and Arabidopsis thaliana contain multiple AlkB homologs, they were selected as model organisms for in vivo research. Using E. coli alkB− mutant and plasmids expressing cyanobacterial AlkBs, we studied the repair of methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) and chloroacetaldehyde (CAA) induced lesions in ssDNA, ssRNA, and genomic DNA. On the basis of GFP fusions, we investigated the subcellular localization of ALKBHs in A. thaliana and established its mostly nucleo-cytoplasmic distribution. Some of the ALKBH proteins were found to change their localization upon MMS treatment.
Our in vivo studies showed highly specific activity of cyanobacterial AlkB proteins towards lesions and nucleic acid type. Subcellular localization and translocation of ALKBHs in A. thaliana indicates a possible role for these proteins in the repair of alkyl lesions. We hypothesize that the multiplicity of ALKBHs is due to their involvement in the metabolism of nucleo-protein complexes; we find their repair by ALKBH proteins to be economical and effective alternative to degradation and de novo synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3265494  PMID: 22291995
9.  Substrate specificities of bacterial and human AlkB proteins 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(11):3456-3461.
Methylating agents introduce cytotoxic 1-methyladenine (1-meA) and 3-methylcytosine (3-meC) residues into nucleic acids, and it was recently demonstrated that the Escherichia coli AlkB protein and two human homologues, hABH2 and hABH3, can remove these lesions from DNA by oxidative demethylation. Moreover, AlkB and hABH3 were also found to remove 1-meA and 3-meC from RNA, suggesting that cellular RNA repair can occur. We have here studied the preference of AlkB, hABH2 and hABH3 for single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) or double-stranded DNA (dsDNA), and show that AlkB and hABH3 prefer ssDNA, while hABH2 prefers dsDNA. This was consistently observed with three different oligonucleotide substrates, implying that the specificity for single-stranded versus double-stranded DNA is sequence independent. The dsDNA preference of hABH2 was observed only in the presence of magnesium. The activity of the enzymes on single-stranded RNA (ssRNA), double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) and DNA/RNA hybrids was also investigated, and the results generally confirm the notion that while AlkB and hABH3 tend to prefer single-stranded nucleic acids, hABH2 is more active on double-stranded substrates. These results may contribute to identifying the main substrates of bacterial and human AlkB proteins in vivo.
PMCID: PMC443531  PMID: 15229293
10.  Exocyclic Carbons Adjacent to the N6 of Adenine are Targets for Oxidation by the Escherichia coli Adaptive Response Protein AlkB 
The DNA and RNA repair protein AlkB removes alkyl groups from nucleic acids by a unique iron- and α-ketoglutarate-dependent oxidation strategy. When alkylated adenines are used as AlkB targets, earlier work suggests that the initial target of oxidation can be the alkyl carbon adjacent to N1. Such may be the case with ethano-adenine (EA), a DNA adduct formed by an important anticancer drug, BCNU, whereby an initial oxidation would occur at the carbon adjacent to N1. In a previous study, several intermediates were observed suggesting a pathway involving adduct restructuring to a form that would not hinder replication, which would match biological data showing that AlkB almost completely reverses EA toxicity in vivo. The present study uses more sensitive spectroscopic methodology to reveal the complete conversion of EA to adenine; the nature of observed additional putative intermediates indicates that AlkB conducts a second oxidation event in order to release the two-carbon unit completely. The second oxidation event occurs at the exocyclic carbon adjacent to the N6 atom of adenine. The observation of oxidation of a carbon at N6 in EA prompted us to evaluate N6-methyladenine (m6A), an important epigenetic signal for DNA replication and many other cellular processes, as an AlkB substrate in DNA. Here we show that m6A is indeed a substrate for AlkB and that it is converted to adenine via its 6-hydroxymethyl derivative. The observation that AlkB can demethylate m6A in vitro suggests a role for AlkB in regulation of important cellular functions in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3363417  PMID: 22512456
11.  Kinetic studies of Escherichia coli AlkB using a new fluorescence-based assay for DNA demethylation 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(21):e147.
The Escherichia coli AlkB protein catalyzes the direct reversal of alkylation damage to DNA; primarily 1-methyladenine (1mA) and 3-methylcytosine (3mC) lesions created by endogenous or environmental alkylating agents. AlkB is a member of the non-heme iron (II) α-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase superfamily, which removes the alkyl group through oxidation eliminating a methyl group as formaldehyde. We have developed a fluorescence-based assay for the dealkylation activity of this family of enzymes. It uses formaldehyde dehydrogenase to convert formaldehyde to formic acid and monitors the creation of an NADH analog using fluorescence. This assay is a great improvement over the existing assays for DNA demethylation in that it is continuous, rapid and does not require radioactively labeled material. It may also be used to study other demethylation reactions including demethylation of histones. We used it to determine the kinetic constants for AlkB and found them to be somewhat different than previously reported values. The results show that AlkB demethylates 1mA and 3mC with comparable efficiencies and has only a modest preference for a single-stranded DNA substrate over its double-stranded DNA counterpart.
PMCID: PMC2175350  PMID: 18003660
12.  The DNA dioxygenase ALKBH2 protects Arabidopsis thaliana against methylation damage 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(14):6620-6631.
The Escherichia coli AlkB protein (EcAlkB) is a DNA repair enzyme which reverses methylation damage such as 1-methyladenine (1-meA) and 3-methylcytosine (3-meC). The mammalian AlkB homologues ALKBH2 and ALKBH3 display EcAlkB-like repair activity in vitro, but their substrate specificities are different, and ALKBH2 is the main DNA repair enzyme for 1-meA in vivo. The genome of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana encodes several AlkB homologues, including the yet uncharacterized protein AT2G22260, which displays sequence similarity to both ALKBH2 and ALKBH3. We have here characterized protein AT2G22260, by us denoted ALKBH2, as both our functional studies and bioinformatics analysis suggest it to be an orthologue of mammalian ALKBH2. The Arabidopsis ALKBH2 protein displayed in vitro repair activities towards methyl and etheno adducts in DNA, and was able to complement corresponding repair deficiencies of the E. coli alkB mutant. Interestingly, alkbh2 knock-out plants were sensitive to the methylating agent methylmethanesulphonate (MMS), and seedlings from these plants developed abnormally when grown in the presence of MMS. The present study establishes ALKBH2 as an important enzyme for protecting Arabidopsis against methylation damage in DNA, and suggests its homologues in other plants to have a similar function.
PMCID: PMC3413135  PMID: 22532610
13.  Removal of N-Alkyl Modifications from N2-Alkylguanine and N4-Alkylcytosine in DNA by the Adaptive Response Protein AlkB 
Chemical Research in Toxicology  2013;26(8):1182-1187.
The AlkB enzyme is an Fe(II)- and α-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase that repairs DNA alkyl lesions by a direct reversal of damage mechanism as part of the adaptive response in E. coli. The reported substrate scope of AlkB includes simple DNA alkyl adducts, such as 1-methyladenine, 3-methylcytosine, 3-ethylcytosine, 1-methylguanine, 3-methylthymine, and N6-methyladenine, as well as more complex DNA adducts, such as 1,N6-ethenoadenine, 3,N4-ethenocytosine, and 1,N6-ethanoadenine. Previous studies have revealed, in a piecemeal way, that AlkB has an impressive repertoire of substrates. The present study makes two additions to this list, showing that alkyl adducts on the N2 position of guanine and N4 position of cytosine are also substrates for AlkB. Using high resolution ESI-TOF mass spectrometry, we show that AlkB has the biochemical capability to repair in vitroN2-methylguanine, N2-ethylguanine, N2-furan-2-yl-methylguanine, N2-tetrahydrofuran-2-yl-methylguanine, and N4-methylcytosine in ssDNA but not in dsDNA. When viewed together with previous work, the experimental data herein demonstrate that AlkB is able to repair all simple N-alkyl adducts occurring at the Watson–Crick base pairing interface of the four DNA bases, confirming AlkB as a versatile gatekeeper of genomic integrity under alkylation stress.
PMCID: PMC3748507  PMID: 23773213
14.  Repair of DNA Alkylation Damage by the Escherichia coli Adaptive Response Protein AlkB as Studied by ESI-TOF Mass Spectrometry 
Journal of Nucleic Acids  2010;2010:369434.
DNA alkylation can cause mutations, epigenetic changes, and even cell death. All living organisms have evolved enzymatic and non-enzymatic strategies for repairing such alkylation damage. AlkB, one of the Escherichia coli adaptive response proteins, uses an α-ketoglutarate/Fe(II)-dependent mechanism that, by chemical oxidation, removes a variety of alkyl lesions from DNA, thus affording protection of the genome against alkylation. In an effort to understand the range of acceptable substrates for AlkB, the enzyme was incubated with chemically synthesized oligonucleotides containing alkyl lesions, and the reaction products were analyzed by electrospray ionization time-of-flight (ESI-TOF) mass spectrometry. Consistent with the literature, but studied comparatively here for the first time, it was found that 1-methyladenine, 1,N 6-ethenoadenine, 3-methylcytosine, and 3-ethylcytosine were completely transformed by AlkB, while 1-methylguanine and 3-methylthymine were partially repaired. The repair intermediates (epoxide and possibly glycol) of 3,N 4-ethenocytosine are reported for the first time. It is also demonstrated that O 6-methylguanine and 5-methylcytosine are refractory to AlkB, lending support to the hypothesis that AlkB repairs only alkyl lesions attached to the nitrogen atoms of the nucleobase. ESI-TOF mass spectrometry is shown to be a sensitive and efficient tool for probing the comparative substrate specificities of DNA repair proteins in vitro.
PMCID: PMC2965429  PMID: 21048928
15.  The DNA-repair protein AlkB, EGL-9, and leprecan define new families of 2-oxoglutarate- and iron-dependent dioxygenases 
Genome Biology  2001;2(3):research0007.1-research0007.8.
Protein fold recognition using sequence profile searches frequently allows prediction of the structure and biochemical mechanisms of proteins with an important biological function but unknown biochemical activity. Here we describe such predictions resulting from an analysis of the 2-oxoglutarate (2OG) and Fe(II)-dependent oxygenases, a class of enzymes that are widespread in eukaryotes and bacteria and catalyze a variety of reactions typically involving the oxidation of an organic substrate using a dioxygen molecule.
We employ sequence profile analysis to show that the DNA repair protein AlkB, the extracellular matrix protein leprecan, the disease-resistance-related protein EGL-9 and several uncharacterized proteins define novel families of enzymes of the 2OG-Fe(II) oxygenase superfamily. The identification of AlkB as a member of the 2OG-Fe(II) oxygenase superfamily suggests that this protein catalyzes oxidative detoxification of alkylated bases. More distant homologs of AlkB were detected in eukaryotes and in plant RNA viruses, leading to the hypothesis that these proteins might be involved in RNA demethylation. The EGL-9 protein from Caenorhabditis elegans is necessary for normal muscle function and its inactivation results in resistance against paralysis induced by the Pseudomonas aeruginosa toxin. EGL-9 and leprecan are predicted to be novel protein hydroxylases that might be involved in the generation of substrates for protein glycosylation.
Here, using sequence profile searches, we show that several previously undetected protein families contain 2OG-Fe(II) oxygenase fold. This allows us to predict the catalytic activity for a wide range of biologically important, but biochemically uncharacterized proteins from eukaryotes and bacteria.
PMCID: PMC30706  PMID: 11276424
16.  The Escherichia coli AlkB protein protects human cells against alkylation-induced toxicity. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1994;176(20):6255-6261.
Escherichia coli can ameliorate the toxic effects of alkylating agents either by preventing DNA alkylation or by repairing DNA alkylation damage. The alkylation-sensitive phenotype of E. coli alkB mutants marks the alkB pathway as an extremely effective defense mechanism against the cytotoxic effects of the SN2, but not the SN1, alkylating agents. Although it is clear that AlkB helps cells to better handle alkylated DNA, no DNA alkylation repair function could be assigned to the purified AlkB protein, suggesting that AlkB either acts as part of a complex or acts to regulate the expression of other genes whose products are directly responsible for alkylation resistance. However, here we present evidence that the provision of alkylation resistance is an intrinsic function of the AlkB protein per se. We expressed the E. coli AlkB protein in two human cell lines and found that it confers the same characteristic alkylation-resistant phenotype in this foreign environment as it does in E. coli. AlkB expression rendered human cells extremely resistant to cell killing by the SN2 but not the SN1 alkylating agents but did not affect the ability of dimethyl sulfate (an SN2 agent) to alkylate the genome. We infer that SN2 agents produce a class of DNA damage that is not efficiently produced by SN1 agents and that AlkB somehow prevents this damage from killing the cell.
PMCID: PMC196966  PMID: 7928996
17.  Crystal structures of DNA/RNA repair enzymes AlkB and ABH2 bound to dsDNA 
Nature  2008;452(7190):961-965.
Escherichia coli AlkB and its human homologues ABH2 and ABH3 repair DNA/RNA base lesions by using a direct oxidative dealkylation mechanism. ABH2 has the primary role of guarding mammalian genomes against 1-meA damage by repairing this lesion in double-stranded DNA (dsDNA), whereas AlkB and ABH3 preferentially repair single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) lesions and can repair damaged bases in RNA. Here we show the first crystal structures of AlkB–dsDNA and ABH2–dsDNA complexes, stabilized by a chemical cross-linking strategy. This study reveals that AlkB uses an unprecedented base-flipping mechanism to access the damaged base: it squeezes together the two bases flanking the flipped-out one to maintain the base stack, explaining the preference of AlkB for repairing ssDNA lesions over dsDNA ones. In addition, the first crystal structure of ABH2, presented here, provides a structural basis for designing inhibitors of this human DNA repair protein.
PMCID: PMC2587245  PMID: 18432238
18.  Alkbh2 protects against lethality and mutation in primary mouse embryonic fibroblasts 
DNA repair  2012;11(5):502-510.
Alkylating agents modify DNA and RNA forming adducts that disrupt replication and transcription, trigger cell cycle checkpoints and/or initiate apoptosis. If left unrepaired, some of the damage can be cytotoxic and/or mutagenic. In Escherichia coli, the alkylation repair protein B (AlkB) provides one form of resistance to alkylating agents by eliminating mainly 1-methyladenine and 3-methylcytosine, thereby increasing survival and preventing mutation. To examine the biological role of the mammalian AlkB homologs Alkbh2 and Alkbh3, which both have similar enzymatic activities to that of AlkB, we evaluated the survival and mutagenesis of primary Big Blue mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) that had targeted deletions in the Alkbh2 or Alkbh3 genes. Both Alkbh2- and Alkbh3-deficient MEFs were ~2-fold more sensitive to methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) induced cytotoxicity compared to the wild type control cells. Spontaneous mutant frequencies were similar for the wild type, Alkbh2−/− and Alkbh3−/− MEFs (average-1.3×10−5). However, despite the similar survival of the two mutant MEFs after MMS treatment, only the Alkbh2-deficient MEFs showed a statistically significant increase in mutant frequency compared to wild type MEFs after MMS treatment. Therefore, although both Alkbh2 and Alkbh3 can protect against MMS-induced cell death, only Alkbh2 shows statistically significant protection of MEF DNA against mutations following treatment with this exogenous methylating agent.
PMCID: PMC3614354  PMID: 22429847
DNA repair; AlkB homologs; Fe(II)/α-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases; mutagenesis
19.  A Chemical Genetics Analysis of the Roles of Bypass Polymerase DinB and DNA Repair Protein AlkB in Processing N2-Alkylguanine Lesions In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94716.
DinB, the E. coli translesion synthesis polymerase, has been shown to bypass several N2-alkylguanine adducts in vitro, including N2-furfurylguanine, the structural analog of the DNA adduct formed by the antibacterial agent nitrofurazone. Recently, it was demonstrated that the Fe(II)- and α-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase AlkB, a DNA repair enzyme, can dealkylate in vitro a series of N2-alkyguanines, including N2-furfurylguanine. The present study explored, head to head, the in vivo relative contributions of these two DNA maintenance pathways (replicative bypass vs. repair) as they processed a series of structurally varied, biologically relevant N2-alkylguanine lesions: N2-furfurylguanine (FF), 2-tetrahydrofuran-2-yl-methylguanine (HF), 2-methylguanine, and 2-ethylguanine. Each lesion was chemically synthesized and incorporated site-specifically into an M13 bacteriophage genome, which was then replicated in E. coli cells deficient or proficient for DinB and AlkB (4 strains in total). Biochemical tools were employed to analyze the relative replication efficiencies of the phage (a measure of the bypass efficiency of each lesion) and the base composition at the lesion site after replication (a measure of the mutagenesis profile of each lesion). The main findings were: 1) Among the lesions studied, the bulky FF and HF lesions proved to be strong replication blocks when introduced site-specifically on a single-stranded vector in DinB deficient cells. This toxic effect disappeared in the strains expressing physiological levels of DinB. 2) AlkB is known to repair N2-alkylguanine lesions in vitro; however, the presence of AlkB showed no relief from the replication blocks induced by FF and HF in vivo. 3) The mutagenic properties of the entire series of N2-alkyguanines adducts were investigated in vivo for the first time. None of the adducts were mutagenic under the conditions evaluated, regardless of the DinB or AlkB cellular status. Taken together, the data indicated that the cellular pathway to combat bulky N2-alkylguanine DNA adducts was DinB-dependent lesion bypass.
PMCID: PMC3986394  PMID: 24733044
20.  Prediction of novel families of enzymes involved in oxidative and other complex modifications of bases in nucleic acids 
Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)  2009;8(11):1698-1710.
Modified bases in nucleic acids present a layer of information that directs biological function over and beyond the coding capacity of the conventional bases. While a large number of modified bases have been identified, many of the enzymes generating them still remain to be discovered. Recently, members of the 2-oxoglutarate- and iron(II)-dependent dioxygenase superfamily, which modify diverse substrates from small molecules to biopolymers, were predicted and subsequently confirmed to catalyze oxidative modification of bases in nucleic acids. Of these, two distinct families, namely the AlkB and the kinetoplastid base J binding proteins (JBP) catalyze in situ hydroxylation of bases in nucleic acids. Using sensitive computational analysis of sequences, structures and contextual information from genomic structure and protein domain architectures, we report five distinct families of 2-oxoglutarate- and iron(II)-dependent dioxygenase that we predict to be involved in nucleic acid modifications. Among the DNA-modifying families, we show that the dioxygenase domains of the kinetoplastid base J-binding proteins belong to a larger family that includes the Tet proteins, prototyped by the human oncogene Tet1, and proteins from basidiomycete fungi, chlorophyte algae, heterolobosean amoeboflagellates and bacteriophages. We present evidence that some of these proteins are likely to be involved in oxidative modification of the 5-methyl group of cytosine leading to the formation of 5-hydroxymethyl-cytosine. The Tet/JBP homologs from basidiomycete fungi such as Laccaria and Coprinopsis show large lineage-specific expansions and a tight linkage with genes encoding a novel and distinct family of predicted transposases, and a member of the Maelstrom-like HMG family. We propose that these fungal members are part of a mobile transposon. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of a eukaryotic transposable element that encodes its own DNA-modification enzyme with a potential regulatory role. Through a wider analysis of other poorly characterized DNA-modifying enzymes we also show that the phage Mu Mom-like proteins, which catalyze the N6-carbamoylmethylation of adenines, are also linked to diverse families of bacterial transposases, suggesting that DNA modification by transposable elements might have a more general presence than previously appreciated. Among the other families of 2-oxoglutarate- and iron(II)-dependent dioxygenases identified in this study, one which is found in algae, is predicted to mainly comprise of RNA-modifying enzymes and shows a striking diversity in protein domain architectures suggesting the presence of RNA modifications with possibly unique adaptive roles. The results presented here are likely to provide the means for future investigation of unexpected epigenetic modifications, such as hydroxymethyl cytosine, that could profoundly impact our understanding of gene regulation and processes such as DNA demethylation.
PMCID: PMC2995806  PMID: 19411852
DNA methylation; dioxygenases; mom; transposons; bacteriophage; AlkB; hydroxymethylcytosine; demethylation; algae; RNA modification; CXXC domain
21.  DNA Damage: Quantum Mechanics/Molecular Mechanics Study on the Oxygen Binding and Substrate Hydroxylation Step in AlkB Repair Enzymes 
AlkB repair enzymes are important nonheme iron enzymes that catalyse the demethylation of alkylated DNA bases in humans, which is a vital reaction in the body that heals externally damaged DNA bases. Its mechanism is currently controversial and in order to resolve the catalytic mechanism of these enzymes, a quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) study was performed on the demethylation of the N1-methyladenine fragment by AlkB repair enzymes. Firstly, the initial modelling identified the oxygen binding site of the enzyme. Secondly, the oxygen activation mechanism was investigated and a novel pathway was found, whereby the catalytically active iron(IV)–oxo intermediate in the catalytic cycle undergoes an initial isomerisation assisted by an Arg residue in the substrate binding pocket, which then brings the oxo group in close contact with the methyl group of the alkylated DNA base. This enables a subsequent rate-determining hydrogen-atom abstraction on competitive σ-and π-pathways on a quintet spin-state surface. These findings give evidence of different locations of the oxygen and substrate binding channels in the enzyme and the origin of the separation of the oxygen-bound intermediates in the catalytic cycle from substrate. Our studies are compared with small model complexes and the effect of protein and environment on the kinetics and mechanism is explained.
PMCID: PMC3994944  PMID: 24339041
density functional calculations; DNA base repair; DNA damage; hydroxylation; nonheme iron enzymes
22.  Oxidative demethylation of 3-methylthymine and 3-methyluracil in single-stranded DNA and RNA by mouse and human FTO 
FEBS letters  2008;582(23-24):3313-3319.
The human obesity susceptibility gene, FTO, encodes a protein that is homologous to the DNA repair AlkB protein. The AlkB family proteins utilize iron(II), α-ketoglutarate (α-KG) and dioxygen to perform oxidative repair of alkylated nucleobases in DNA and RNA. We demonstrate here the oxidative demethylation of 3-methylthymine (3-meT) in single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) and 3-methyluracil (3-meU) in single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) by recombinant human FTO protein in vitro. Both human and mouse FTO proteins preferentially repair 3-meT in ssDNA over other base lesions tested. They showed negligible activities against 3-meT in double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). In addition, these two proteins can catalyze the demethylation of 3-meU in ssRNA with a slightly higher efficiency over that of 3-meT in ssDNA, suggesting that methylated RNAs are the preferred substrates for FTO.
PMCID: PMC2577709  PMID: 18775698
DNA/RNA repair; FTO; oxidative demethylation
23.  Human ALKBH4 Interacts with Proteins Associated with Transcription 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49045.
The Fe(II)- and 2-oxoglutarate (2OG)-dependent dioxygenase AlkB from E. coli is a demethylase which repairs alkyl lesions in DNA, as well as RNA, through a direct reversal mechanism. Humans possess nine AlkB homologs (ALKBH1-8 and FTO). ALKBH2 and ALKBH3 display demethylase activities corresponding to that of AlkB, and both ALKBH8 and FTO are RNA modification enzymes. The biochemical functions of the rest of the homologs are still unknown. To increase our knowledge on the functions of ALKBH4 and ALKBH7 we have here performed yeast two-hybrid screens to identify interaction partners of the two proteins. While no high-confidence hits were detected in the case of ALKBH7, several proteins associated with chromatin and/or involved in transcription were found to interact with ALKBH4. For all interaction partners, the regions mediating binding to ALKBH4 comprised domains previously reported to be involved in interaction with DNA or chromatin. Furthermore, some of these partners showed nuclear co-localization with ALKBH4. However, the global gene expression pattern was only marginally altered upon ALKBH4 over-expression, and larger effects were observed in the case of ALKBH7. Although the molecular function of both proteins remains to be revealed, our findings suggest a role for ALKBH4 in regulation of gene expression or chromatin state.
PMCID: PMC3493508  PMID: 23145062
24.  Iron-Catalyzed Oxidation Intermediates Captured in a DNA Repair Dioxygenase 
Nature  2010;468(7321):330-333.
Mononuclear iron-containing oxygenases conduct a diverse variety of oxidation functions in biology1,2, including the oxidative demethylation of methylated nucleic acids and histones3,4. E. coli AlkB is the first such enzyme that was discovered to repair methylated nucleic acids (Fig. 1)5,6, which are otherwise cytotoxic and/or mutagenic. AlkB human homologues are known to play pivotal roles in various processes7–11. Presented here is the first structural characterization of oxidation intermediates for these demethylases. Employing a chemical cross-linking strategy12,13, complexes of AlkB-dsDNA containing 1,N6-etheno adenine (εA), N3-methyl thymine (3-meT), and N3-methyl cytosine (3-meC) were stabilized and crystallized, respectively. Exposing these crystals, grown under anaerobic conditions containing iron(II) and α-ketoglutarate (αKG), to dioxygen initiates oxidation in crystallo (Supplementary Fig. 1). A glycol (from εA) and a hemiaminal (from 3-meT) intermediates are captured; a zwitterionic intermediate (from 3-2 meC) is also proposed, based on crystallographic observations and computational analysis. The observation of these unprecedented intermediates provides direct support for the oxidative demethylation mechanism for these demethylases. This study also depicts a general mechanistic view of how a methyl group is oxidatively removed from different biological substrates.
PMCID: PMC3058853  PMID: 21068844
25.  Phylogenomic identification of five new human homologs of the DNA repair enzyme AlkB 
BMC Genomics  2003;4:48.
Combination of biochemical and bioinformatic analyses led to the discovery of oxidative demethylation – a novel DNA repair mechanism catalyzed by the Escherichia coli AlkB protein and its two human homologs, hABH2 and hABH3. This discovery was based on the prediction made by Aravind and Koonin that AlkB is a member of the 2OG-Fe2+ oxygenase superfamily.
In this article, we report identification and sequence analysis of five human members of the (2OG-Fe2+) oxygenase superfamily designated here as hABH4 through hABH8. These experimentally uncharacterized and poorly annotated genes were not associated with the AlkB family in any database, but are predicted here to be phylogenetically and functionally related to the AlkB family (and specifically to the lineage that groups together hABH2 and hABH3) rather than to any other oxygenase family. Our analysis reveals the history of ABH gene duplications in the evolution of vertebrate genomes.
We hypothesize that hABH 4–8 could either be back-up enzymes for hABH1-3 or may code for novel DNA or RNA repair activities. For example, enzymes that can dealkylate N3-methylpurines or N7-methylpurines in DNA have not been described. Our analysis will guide experimental confirmation of these novel human putative DNA repair enzymes.
PMCID: PMC317286  PMID: 14667252
phylogenomics; bioinformatics; dealkylation; demethylation; dioxygenases

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