Global conformational dynamics of a Y-family DNA polymerase during catalysis

PLoS Biol. 2009 Oct;7(10):e1000225. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000225. Epub 2009 Oct 27.


Replicative DNA polymerases are stalled by damaged DNA while the newly discovered Y-family DNA polymerases are recruited to rescue these stalled replication forks, thereby enhancing cell survival. The Y-family DNA polymerases, characterized by low fidelity and processivity, are able to bypass different classes of DNA lesions. A variety of kinetic and structural studies have established a minimal reaction pathway common to all DNA polymerases, although the conformational intermediates are not well defined. Furthermore, the identification of the rate-limiting step of nucleotide incorporation catalyzed by any DNA polymerase has been a matter of long debate. By monitoring time-dependent fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) signal changes at multiple sites in each domain and DNA during catalysis, we present here a real-time picture of the global conformational transitions of a model Y-family enzyme: DNA polymerase IV (Dpo4) from Sulfolobus solfataricus. Our results provide evidence for a hypothetical DNA translocation event followed by a rapid protein conformational change prior to catalysis and a subsequent slow, post-chemistry protein conformational change. Surprisingly, the DNA translocation step was induced by the binding of a correct nucleotide. Moreover, we have determined the directions, rates, and activation energy barriers of the protein conformational transitions, which indicated that the four domains of Dpo4 moved in a synchronized manner. These results showed conclusively that a pre-chemistry conformational change associated with domain movements was too fast to be the rate-limiting step. Rather, the rearrangement of active site residues limited the rate of correct nucleotide incorporation. Collectively, the conformational dynamics of Dpo4 offer insights into how the inter-domain movements are related to enzymatic function and their concerted interactions with other proteins at the replication fork.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Catalysis
  • Catalytic Domain
  • DNA Polymerase beta / chemistry*
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA, Archaeal / genetics
  • DNA, Archaeal / metabolism
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer
  • Kinetics
  • Protein Conformation
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Sulfolobus solfataricus / chemistry


  • DNA, Archaeal
  • DNA Polymerase beta