Tangle analysis of Xer recombination reveals only three solutions, all consistent with a single three-dimensional topological pathway

J Mol Biol. 2005 Feb 18;346(2):493-504. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2004.11.055. Epub 2005 Jan 11.


The product of Xer recombination at directly repeated psi sites on a circular unknotted DNA molecule is a right-hand four-noded catenane. Here, we use tangle equations to analyze the topological changes associated with Xer recombination at psi. This mathematical method allows computation of all possible topological pathways consistent with the experimental data. We give a rigorous mathematical proof that, under reasonable biological assumptions, there are only three solutions to the tangle equations. One of the solutions corresponds to a synaptic complex with antiparallel alignment of recombination core sites, the other two correspond to parallel alignment of cores. We show that all three solutions can be unified into a single three-dimensional model for Xer recombination. Thus the three distinct mathematical solutions do not necessarily represent distinct three-dimensional pathways, and in this case the three distinct tangle solutions are different planar projections of the same three-dimensional configuration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Escherichia coli Proteins / chemistry*
  • Integrases / chemistry*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Recombination, Genetic


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • XerC protein, E coli
  • Integrases
  • XerD protein, E coli