Keeping uracil out of DNA: physiological role, structure and catalytic mechanism of dUTPases

Acc Chem Res. 2009 Jan 20;42(1):97-106. doi: 10.1021/ar800114w.


The thymine-uracil exchange constitutes one of the major chemical differences between DNA and RNA. Although these two bases form the same Watson-Crick base pairs with adenine and are equivalent for both information storage and transmission, uracil incorporation in DNA is usually a mistake that needs to be excised. There are two ways for uracil to appear in DNA: thymine replacement and cytosine deamination. Most DNA polymerases readily incorporate dUMP as well as dTMP depending solely on the availability of the d(U/T)TP building block nucleotides. Cytosine deamination results in mutagenic U:G mismatches that must be excised. The repair system, however, also excises U from U:A "normal" pairs. It is therefore crucial to limit thymine-replacing uracils.dUTP is constantly produced in the pyrimidine biosynthesis network. To prevent uracil incorporation into DNA, representatives of the dUTP nucleotidohydrolase (dUTPase) enzyme family eliminate excess dUTP. This Account describes recent studies that have provided important detailed insights into the structure and function of these essential enzymes.dUTPases typically possess exquisite specificity and display an intriguing homotrimer active site architecture. Conserved residues from all three monomers contribute to each of the three active sites within the dUTPase. Although even dUTPases from evolutionarily distant species possess similar structural and functional traits, in a few cases, a monomer dUTPase mimics the trimer structure through an unusual folding pattern. Catalysis proceeds by way of an SN2 mechanism; a water molecule initiates in-line nucleophilic attack. The dUTPase binding pocket is highly specific for uracil. Phosphate chain coordination involves Mg2+ and is analogous to that of DNA polymerases. Because of conformational changes in the enzyme during catalysis, most crystal structures have not resolved the residues in the C-terminus. However, recent high-resolution structures are beginning to provide in-depth structural information about this region of the protein.The dUTPase family of enzymes also shows promise as novel targets for anticancer and antimicrobial therapies. dUTPase is upregulated in human tumor cells. In addition, dUTPase inhibitors could also fight infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. In these respective pathogens, Plasmodium falciparum and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the biosynthesis of dTMP relies exclusively on dUTPase activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Pairing
  • Catalytic Domain
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / chemistry
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Isoenzymes / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Pyrophosphatases / chemistry
  • Pyrophosphatases / genetics
  • Pyrophosphatases / metabolism
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Thymine / chemistry
  • Uracil / chemistry*


  • Isoenzymes
  • Uracil
  • DNA
  • Pyrophosphatases
  • dUTP pyrophosphatase
  • Thymine

Associated data

  • PDB/1Q5H
  • PDB/2HQU
  • PDB/2PY4