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1.  Identification of protein structural elements responsible for the diversity of sequence preferences among Mini-III RNases 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:38612.
Many known endoribonucleases select their substrates based on the presence of one or a few specific nucleotides at or near the cleavage site. In some cases, selectivity is also determined by the structural features of the substrate. We recently described the sequence-specific cleavage of double-stranded RNA by Mini-III RNase from Bacillus subtilis in vitro. Here, we characterized the sequence specificity of eight other members of the Mini-III RNase family from different bacterial species. High-throughput analysis of the cleavage products of Φ6 bacteriophage dsRNA indicated subtle differences in sequence preference between these RNases, which were confirmed and characterized by systematic analysis of the cleavage kinetics of a set of short dsRNA substrates. We also showed that the sequence specificities of Mini-III RNases are not reflected by different binding affinities for cognate and non-cognate sequences, suggesting that target selection occurs predominantly at the cleavage step. We were able to identify two structural elements, the α4 helix and α5b-α6 loop that were involved in target selection. Characterization of the sequence specificity of the eight Mini-III RNases may provide a basis for better understanding RNA substrate recognition by Mini-III RNases and adopting these enzymes and their engineered derivatives as tools for RNA research.
PMCID: PMC5141509  PMID: 27924926
2.  Sequence-specific cleavage of dsRNA by Mini-III RNase 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;43(5):2864-2873.
Ribonucleases (RNases) play a critical role in RNA processing and degradation by hydrolyzing phosphodiester bonds (exo- or endonucleolytically). Many RNases that cut RNA internally exhibit substrate specificity, but their target sites are usually limited to one or a few specific nucleotides in single-stranded RNA and often in a context of a particular three-dimensional structure of the substrate. Thus far, no RNase counterparts of restriction enzymes have been identified which could cleave double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) in a sequence-specific manner. Here, we present evidence for a sequence-dependent cleavage of long dsRNA by RNase Mini-III from Bacillus subtilis (BsMiniIII). Analysis of the sites cleaved by this enzyme in limited digest of bacteriophage Φ6 dsRNA led to the identification of a consensus target sequence. We defined nucleotide residues within the preferred cleavage site that affected the efficiency of the cleavage and were essential for the discrimination of cleavable versus non-cleavable dsRNA sequences. We have also determined that the loop α5b-α6, a distinctive structural element in Mini-III RNases, is crucial for the specific cleavage, but not for dsRNA binding. Our results suggest that BsMiniIII may serve as a prototype of a sequence-specific dsRNase that could possibly be used for targeted cleavage of dsRNA.
PMCID: PMC4357697  PMID: 25634891
3.  Sequence-specific cleavage of the RNA strand in DNA–RNA hybrids by the fusion of ribonuclease H with a zinc finger 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(22):11563-11570.
Ribonucleases (RNases) are valuable tools applied in the analysis of RNA sequence, structure and function. Their substrate specificity is limited to recognition of single bases or distinct secondary structures in the substrate. Currently, there are no RNases available for purely sequence-dependent fragmentation of RNA. Here, we report the development of a new enzyme that cleaves the RNA strand in DNA–RNA hybrids 5 nt from a nonanucleotide recognition sequence. The enzyme was constructed by fusing two functionally independent domains, a RNase HI, that hydrolyzes RNA in DNA–RNA hybrids in processive and sequence-independent manner, and a zinc finger that recognizes a sequence in DNA–RNA hybrids. The optimization of the fusion enzyme’s specificity was guided by a structural model of the protein-substrate complex and involved a number of steps, including site-directed mutagenesis of the RNase moiety and optimization of the interdomain linker length. Methods for engineering zinc finger domains with new sequence specificities are readily available, making it feasible to acquire a library of RNases that recognize and cleave a variety of sequences, much like the commercially available assortment of restriction enzymes. Potentially, zinc finger-RNase HI fusions may, in addition to in vitro applications, be used in vivo for targeted RNA degradation.
PMCID: PMC3526281  PMID: 23042681
4.  Delineation of structural domains and identification of functionally important residues in DNA repair enzyme exonuclease VII 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(16):8163-8174.
Exonuclease VII (ExoVII) is a bacterial nuclease involved in DNA repair and recombination that hydrolyses single-stranded DNA. ExoVII is composed of two subunits: large XseA and small XseB. Thus far, little was known about the molecular structure of ExoVII, the interactions between XseA and XseB, the architecture of the nuclease active site or its mechanism of action. We used bioinformatics methods to predict the structure of XseA, which revealed four domains: an N-terminal OB-fold domain, a middle putatively catalytic domain, a coiled-coil domain and a short C-terminal segment. By series of deletion and site-directed mutagenesis experiments on XseA from Escherichia coli, we determined that the OB-fold domain is responsible for DNA binding, the coiled-coil domain is involved in binding multiple copies of the XseB subunit and residues D155, R205, H238 and D241 of the middle domain are important for the catalytic activity but not for DNA binding. Altogether, we propose a model of sequence–structure–function relationships in ExoVII.
PMCID: PMC3439923  PMID: 22718974
5.  Inference of relationships in the ‘twilight zone’ of homology using a combination of bioinformatics and site-directed mutagenesis: a case study of restriction endonucleases Bsp6I and PvuII 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(2):661-671.
Thus far, identification of functionally important residues in Type II restriction endonucleases (REases) has been difficult using conventional methods. Even though known REase structures share a fold and marginally recognizable active site, the overall sequence similarities are statistically insignificant, unless compared among proteins that recognize identical or very similar sequences. Bsp6I is a Type II REase, which recognizes the palindromic DNA sequence 5′GCNGC and cleaves between the cytosine and the unspecified nucleotide in both strands, generating a double-strand break with 5′-protruding single nucleotides. There are no solved structures of REases that recognize similar DNA targets or generate cleavage products with similar characteristics. In straightforward comparisons, the Bsp6I sequence shows no significant similarity to REases with known structures. However, using a fold-recognition approach, we have identified a remote relationship between Bsp6I and the structure of PvuII. Starting from the sequence–structure alignment between Bsp6I and PvuII, we constructed a homology model of Bsp6I and used it to predict functionally significant regions in Bsp6I. The homology model was supported by site-directed mutagenesis of residues predicted to be important for dimerization, DNA binding and catalysis. Completing the picture of sequence–structure–function relationships in protein superfamilies becomes an essential task in the age of structural genomics and our study may serve as a paradigm for future analyses of superfamilies comprising strongly diverged members with little or no sequence similarity.
PMCID: PMC548357  PMID: 15684412
6.  A homology model of restriction endonuclease SfiI in complex with DNA 
Restriction enzymes (REases) are commercial reagents commonly used in recombinant DNA technologies. They are attractive models for studying protein-DNA interactions and valuable targets for protein engineering. They are, however, extremely divergent: the amino acid sequence of a typical REase usually shows no detectable similarities to any other proteins, with rare exceptions of other REases that recognize identical or very similar sequences. From structural analyses and bioinformatics studies it has been learned that some REases belong to at least four unrelated and structurally distinct superfamilies of nucleases, PD-DxK, PLD, HNH, and GIY-YIG. Hence, they are extremely hard targets for structure prediction and homology-based inference of sequence-function relationships and the great majority of REases remain structurally and evolutionarily unclassified.
SfiI is a REase which recognizes the interrupted palindromic sequence 5'GGCCNNNN^NGGCC3' and generates 3 nt long 3' overhangs upon cleavage. SfiI is an archetypal Type IIF enzyme, which functions as a tetramer and cleaves two copies of the recognition site in a concerted manner. Its sequence shows no similarity to other proteins and nothing is known about the localization of its active site or residues important for oligomerization. Using the threading approach for protein fold-recognition, we identified a remote relationship between SfiI and BglI, a dimeric Type IIP restriction enzyme from the PD-DxK superfamily of nucleases, which recognizes the 5'GCCNNNN^NGGC3' sequence and whose structure in complex with the substrate DNA is available. We constructed a homology model of SfiI in complex with its target sequence and used it to predict residues important for dimerization, tetramerization, DNA binding and catalysis.
The bioinformatics analysis suggest that SfiI, a Type IIF enzyme, is more closely related to BglI, an "orthodox" Type IIP restriction enzyme, than to any other REase, including other Type IIF REases with known structures, such as NgoMIV. NgoMIV and BglI belong to two different, very remotely related branches of the PD-DxK superfamily: the α-class (EcoRI-like), and the β-class (EcoRV-like), respectively. Thus, our analysis provides evidence that the ability to tetramerize and cut the two DNA sequences in a concerted manner was developed independently at least two times in the evolution of the PD-DxK superfamily of REases. The model of SfiI will also serve as a convenient platform for further experimental analyses.
PMCID: PMC548270  PMID: 15667656

Results 1-6 (6)