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1.  The Bridge Helix of RNA Polymerase Acts as a Central Nanomechanical Switchboard for Coordinating Catalysis and Substrate Movement 
Archaea  2012;2011:608385.
The availability of in vitro assembly systems to produce recombinant archaeal RNA polymerases (RNAPs) offers one of the most powerful experimental tools for investigating the still relatively poorly understood molecular mechanisms underlying RNAP function. Over the last few years, we pioneered new robot-based high-throughput mutagenesis approaches to study structure/function relationships within various domains surrounding the catalytic center. The Bridge Helix domain, which appears in numerous X-ray structures as a 35-amino-acid-long alpha helix, coordinates the concerted movement of several other domains during catalysis through kinking of two discrete molecular hinges. Mutations affecting these kinking mechanisms have a direct effect on the specific catalytic activity of RNAP and can in some instances more than double it. Molecular dynamics simulations have established themselves as exceptionally useful for providing additional insights and detailed models to explain the underlying structural motions.
PMCID: PMC3270539  PMID: 22312317
2.  Systematic mutational analysis of the LytTR DNA binding domain of Staphylococcus aureus virulence gene transcription factor AgrA 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(20):12523-12536.
Most DNA-binding bacterial transcription factors contact DNA through a recognition α-helix in their DNA-binding domains. An emerging class of DNA-binding transcription factors, predominantly found in pathogenic bacteria interact with the DNA via a relatively novel type of DNA-binding domain, called the LytTR domain, which mainly comprises β strands. Even though the crystal structure of the LytTR domain of the virulence gene transcription factor AgrA from Staphylococcus aureus bound to its cognate DNA sequence is available, the contribution of specific amino acid residues in the LytTR domain of AgrA to transcription activation remains elusive. Here, for the first time, we have systematically investigated the role of amino acid residues in transcription activation in a LytTR domain-containing transcription factor. Our analysis, which involves in vivo and in vitro analyses and molecular dynamics simulations of S. aureus AgrA identifies a highly conserved tyrosine residue, Y229, as a major amino acid determinant for maximal activation of transcription by AgrA and provides novel insights into structure–function relationships in S. aureus AgrA.
PMCID: PMC4227749  PMID: 25352558
3.  An aromatic residue switch in enhancer-dependent bacterial RNA polymerase controls transcription intermediate complex activity 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(11):5874-5886.
The formation of the open promoter complex (RPo) in which the melted DNA containing the transcription start site is located at the RNA polymerase (RNAP) catalytic centre is an obligatory step in the transcription of DNA into RNA catalyzed by RNAP. In the RPo, an extensive network of interactions is established between DNA, RNAP and the σ-factor and the formation of functional RPo occurs via a series of transcriptional intermediates (collectively ‘RPi’). A single tryptophan is ideally positioned to directly engage with the flipped out base of the non-template strand at the +1 site. Evidence suggests that this tryptophan (i) is involved in either forward translocation or DNA scrunching and (ii) in σ54-regulated promoters limits the transcription activity of at least one intermediate complex (RPi) before the formation of a fully functional RPo. Limiting RPi activity may be important in preventing the premature synthesis of abortive transcripts, suggesting its involvement in a general mechanism driving the RPi to RPo transition for transcription initiation.
PMCID: PMC3675486  PMID: 23609536
4.  High-throughput Purification of Affinity-tagged Recombinant Proteins 
X-ray crystallography is the method of choice for obtaining a detailed view of the structure of proteins. Such studies need to be complemented by further biochemical analyses to obtain detailed insights into structure/function relationships. Advances in oligonucleotide- and gene synthesis technology make large-scale mutagenesis strategies increasingly feasible, including the substitution of target residues by all 19 other amino acids. Gain- or loss-of-function phenotypes then allow systematic conclusions to be drawn, such as the contribution of particular residues to catalytic activity, protein stability and/or protein-protein interaction specificity.
In order to attribute the different phenotypes to the nature of the mutation - rather than to fluctuating experimental conditions - it is vital to purify and analyse the proteins in a controlled and reproducible manner. High-throughput strategies and the automation of manual protocols on robotic liquid-handling platforms have created opportunities to perform such complex molecular biological procedures with little human intervention and minimal error rates1-5.
Here, we present a general method for the purification of His-tagged recombinant proteins in a high-throughput manner. In a recent study, we applied this method to a detailed structure-function investigation of TFIIB, a component of the basal transcription machinery. TFIIB is indispensable for promoter-directed transcription in vitro and is essential for the recruitment of RNA polymerase into a preinitiation complex6-8. TFIIB contains a flexible linker domain that penetrates the active site cleft of RNA polymerase9-11. This linker domain confers two biochemically quantifiable activities on TFIIB, namely (i) the stimulation of the catalytic activity during the 'abortive' stage of transcript initiation, and (ii) an additional contribution to the specific recruitment of RNA polymerase into the preinitiation complex4,5,12 . We exploited the high-throughput purification method to generate single, double and triple substitution and deletions mutations within the TFIIB linker and to subsequently analyse them in functional assays for their stimulation effect on the catalytic activity of RNA polymerase4. Altogether, we generated, purified and analysed 381 mutants - a task which would have been time-consuming and laborious to perform manually. We produced and assayed the proteins in multiplicates which allowed us to appreciate any experimental variations and gave us a clear idea of the reproducibility of our results.
This method serves as a generic protocol for the purification of His-tagged proteins and has been successfully used to purify other recombinant proteins. It is currently optimised for the purification of 24 proteins but can be adapted to purify up to 96 proteins.
PMCID: PMC3476752  PMID: 22952005
Biochemistry;  Issue 66;  Genetics;  Molecular Biology;  Bioinformatics;  Recombinant proteins;  histidine tag;  affinity purification;  high-throughput;  automation
5.  Activity Map of the Escherichia coli RNA Polymerase Bridge Helix* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2011;286(16):14469-14479.
Transcription, the synthesis of RNA from a DNA template, is performed by multisubunit RNA polymerases (RNAPs) in all cellular organisms. The bridge helix (BH) is a distinct feature of all multisubunit RNAPs and makes direct interactions with several active site-associated mobile features implicated in the nucleotide addition cycle and RNA and DNA binding. Because the BH has been captured in both kinked and straight conformations in different crystals structures of RNAP, recently supported by molecular dynamics studies, it has been proposed that cycling between these conformations is an integral part of the nucleotide addition cycle. To further evaluate the role of the BH, we conducted systematic alanine scanning mutagenesis of the Escherichia coli RNAP BH to determine its contributions to activities required for transcription. Combining our data with an atomic model of E. coli RNAP, we suggest that alterations in the interactions between the BH and (i) the trigger loop, (ii) fork loop 2, and (iii) switch 2 can help explain the observed changes in RNAP functionality associated with some of the BH variants. Additionally, we show that extensive defects in E. coli RNAP functionality depend upon a single previously not studied lysine residue (Lys-781) that is strictly conserved in all bacteria. It appears that direct interactions made by the BH with other conserved features of RNAP are lost in some of the E. coli alanine substitution variants, which we infer results in conformational changes in RNAP that modify RNAP functionality.
PMCID: PMC3077646  PMID: 21357417
Gene Expression; RNA Polymerase; RNA Synthesis; Transcription; Transcription Initiation Factors; RNA Cleavage
6.  The linker domain of basal transcription factor TFIIB controls distinct recruitment and transcription stimulation functions 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(2):464-474.
RNA polymerases (RNAPs) require basal transcription factors to assist them during transcription initiation. One of these factors, TFIIB, combines promoter recognition, recruitment of RNAP, promoter melting, start site selection and various post-initiation functions. The ability of 381 site-directed mutants in the TFIIB ‘linker domain’ to stimulate abortive transcription was systematically quantitated using promoter-independent dinucleotide extension assays. The results revealed two distinct clusters (mjTFIIB E78-R80 and mjTFIIB R90-G94, respectively) that were particularly sensitive to substitutions. In contrast, a short sequence (mjTFIIB A81-K89) between these two clusters tolerated radical single amino acid substitutions; short deletions in that region even caused a marked increase in the ability of TFIIB to stimulate abortive transcription (‘superstimulation’). The superstimulating activity did, however, not correlate with increased recruitment of the TFIIB/RNAP complex because substitutions in a particular residue (mjTFIIB K87) increased recruitment by more than 5-fold without affecting the rate of abortive transcript stimulation. Our work demonstrates that highly localized changes within the TFIIB linker have profound, yet surprisingly disconnected, effects on RNAP recruitment, TFIIB/RNAP complex stability and the rate of transcription initiation. The identification of superstimulating TFIIB variants reveals the existence of a previously unknown rate-limiting step acting on the earliest stages of gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3025549  PMID: 20851833
7.  The RNA polymerase factory: a robotic in vitro assembly platform for high-throughput production of recombinant protein complexes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;36(1):245-252.
The in-depth structure/function analysis of large protein complexes, such as RNA polymerases (RNAPs), requires an experimental platform capable of assembling variants of such enzymes in large numbers in a reproducible manner under defined in vitro conditions. Here we describe a streamlined and integrated protocol for assembling recombinant archaeal RNAPs in a high-throughput 96-well format. All aspects of the procedure including construction of redesigned expression plasmids, development of automated protein extraction/in vitro assembly methods and activity assays were specifically adapted for implementation on robotic platforms. The optimized strategy allows the parallel assembly and activity assay of 96 recombinant RNAPs (including wild-type and mutant variants) with little or no human intervention within 24 h. We demonstrate the high-throughput potential of this system by evaluating the side-chain requirements of a single amino acid position of the RNAP Bridge Helix using saturation mutagenesis.
PMCID: PMC2248744  PMID: 18025041
8.  Direct Modulation of RNA Polymerase Core Functions by Basal Transcription Factors 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(18):8344-8355.
Archaeal RNA polymerases (RNAPs) are recruited to promoters through the joint action of three basal transcription factors: TATA-binding protein, TFB (archaeal homolog of TFIIB), and TFE (archaeal homolog of TFIIE). Our results demonstrate several new insights into the mechanisms of TFB and TFE during the transcription cycle. (i) The N-terminal Zn ribbon of TFB displays a surprising degree of redundancy for the recruitment of RNAP during transcription initiation in the archaeal system. (ii) The B-finger domain of TFB participates in transcription initiation events by stimulating abortive and productive transcription in a recruitment-independent function. TFB thus combines physical recruitment of the RNAP with an active role in influencing the catalytic properties of RNAP during transcription initiation. (iii) TFB mutations are complemented by TFE, thereby demonstrating that both factors act synergistically during transcription initiation. (iv) An additional function of TFE is to dynamically alter the nucleic acid-binding properties of RNAP by stabilizing the initiation complex and destabilizing elongation complexes.
PMCID: PMC1234337  PMID: 16135821
9.  Archaeal RNA polymerase subunits F and P are bona fide homologs of eukaryotic RPB4 and RPB12 
Nucleic Acids Research  2000;28(21):4299-4305.
The archaeal and eukaryotic evolutionary domains diverged from each other ~2 billion years ago, but many of the core components of their transcriptional and translational machineries still display a readily recognizable degree of similarity in their primary structures. The F and P subunits present in archaeal RNA polymerases were only recently identified in a purified archaeal RNA polymerase preparation and, on the basis of localized sequence homologies, tentatively identified as archaeal versions of the eukaryotic RPB4 and RPB12 RNA polymerase subunits, respectively. We prepared recombinant versions of the F and P subunits from Methanococcus jannaschii and used them in in vitro and in vivo protein interaction assays to demonstrate that they interact with other archaeal subunits in a manner predicted from their eukaryotic counterparts. The overall structural conservation of the M.jannaschii F subunit, although not readily recognizable on the primary amino acid sequence level, is sufficiently high to allow the formation of an archaeal–human F-RPB7 hybrid complex.
PMCID: PMC113124  PMID: 11058130

Results 1-9 (9)