Guanine quadruplex (G4 DNA) is a four-stranded structure that contributes to genome instability and site-specific recombination. G4 DNA folds from sequences containing tandemly repetitive guanines, sequence motifs that are found throughout prokaryote and eukaryote genomes. While some cellular activities have been identified with binding or processing G4 DNA, the factors and pathways governing G4 DNA metabolism are largely undefined. Highly conserved mismatch repair factors have emerged as potential G4-responding complexes because, in addition to initiating heteroduplex correction, the human homologs bind non-B form DNA with high affinity. Moreover, the MutS homologs across species have the capacity to recognize a diverse range of DNA pairing variations and damage, suggesting a conserved ability to bind non-B form DNA.
Here, we asked if E. coli MutS and a heteroduplex recognition mutant, MutS F36A, were capable of recognizing and responding to G4 DNA structures. We find by mobility shift assay that E. coli MutS binds to G4 DNA with high affinity better than binding to G-T heteroduplexes. In the same assay, MutS F36A failed to recognize G-T mismatched oligonucleotides, as expected, but retained an ability to bind to G4 DNA. Association with G4 DNA by MutS is not likely to activate the mismatch repair pathway because nucleotide binding did not promote release of MutS or MutS F36A from G4 DNA as it does for heteroduplexes. G4 recognition activities occur under physiological conditions, and we find that M13 phage harboring G4-capable DNA poorly infected a MutS deficient strain of E. coli compared to M13mp18, suggesting functional roles for mismatch repair factors in the cellular response to unstable genomic elements.
Taken together, our findings demonstrate that E. coli MutS has a binding activity specific for non-B form G4 DNA, but such binding appears independent of canonical heteroduplex repair activation.