PcrA Helicase and the Mexican Wave

X-Ray Structures of the 3'-5' PcrA Helicase, Structures resolved by Professor Wigley. PcrA helicase, a member of the superfamily 1, is an essential enzyme in many bacteria. The first crystal structures of helicases were obtained with PcrA. Based on structural and biochemical studies, it was proposed and then generally believed that PcrA is a monomeric helicase that unwinds DNA by an inchworm mechanism.It was found that the PcrA-catalysed DNA unwinding depended strongly on the PcrA concentration as well as on the 3′-ssDNA tail length of the substrate, indicating that an oligomerization was indispensable for efficient unwinding. Study of the effect of ATP concentration on the unwinding rate gave a Hill coefficient of ∼2, suggesting strongly that PcrA functions as a dimer.It was further determined that PcrA unwound DNA with a step size of 4 bp and a rate of ∼9 steps per second. Surprisingly, it was observed that PcrA unwound 12-bp duplex substrates much less efficiently than 16-bp ones, highlighting the importance of protein-DNA duplex interaction in the helicase activity.

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