Mechanisms of site-specific recombination

Annu Rev Biochem. 2006:75:567-605. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.73.011303.073908.


Integration, excision, and inversion of defined DNA segments commonly occur through site-specific recombination, a process of DNA breakage and reunion that requires no DNA synthesis or high-energy cofactor. Virtually all identified site-specific recombinases fall into one of just two families, the tyrosine recombinases and the serine recombinases, named after the amino acid residue that forms a covalent protein-DNA linkage in the reaction intermediate. Their recombination mechanisms are distinctly different. Tyrosine recombinases break and rejoin single strands in pairs to form a Holliday junction intermediate. By contrast, serine recombinases cut all strands in advance of strand exchange and religation. Many natural systems of site-specific recombination impose sophisticated regulatory mechanisms on the basic recombinational process to favor one particular outcome of recombination over another (for example, excision over inversion or deletion). Details of the site-specific recombination processes have been revealed by recent structural and biochemical studies of members of both families.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catalytic Domain
  • DNA* / chemistry
  • DNA* / metabolism
  • DNA, Cruciform
  • Integrases / chemistry
  • Integrases / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Recombinases / chemistry
  • Recombinases / metabolism
  • Recombination, Genetic*


  • DNA, Cruciform
  • Recombinases
  • DNA
  • Integrases