Translocation and unwinding mechanisms of RNA and DNA helicases

Annu Rev Biophys. 2008:37:317-36. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biophys.37.032807.125908.


Helicases and remodeling enzymes are ATP-dependent motor proteins that play a critical role in every aspect of RNA and DNA metabolism. Most RNA-remodeling enzymes are members of helicase superfamily 2 (SF2), which includes many DNA helicase enzymes that display similar structural and mechanistic features. Although SF2 enzymes are typically called helicases, many of them display other types of functions, including single-strand translocation, strand annealing, and protein displacement. There are two mechanisms by which RNA helicase enzymes unwind RNA: The nonprocessive DEAD group catalyzes local unwinding of short duplexes adjacent to their binding sites. Members of the processive DExH group often translocate along single-stranded RNA and displace paired strands (or proteins) in their path. In the latter case, unwinding is likely to occur by an active mechanism that involves Brownian motor function and stepwise translocation along RNA. Through structural and single-molecule investigations, researchers are developing coherent models to explain the functions and dynamic motions of helicase enzymes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • DNA Helicases / chemistry*
  • DNA Helicases / ultrastructure*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / chemistry*
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / ultrastructure*
  • Motion
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Transport*
  • RNA Helicases / chemistry*
  • RNA Helicases / ultrastructure*


  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • DNA Helicases
  • RNA Helicases