Replication infidelity via a mismatch with Watson-Crick geometry

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 1;108(5):1862-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1012825108. Epub 2011 Jan 13.


In describing the DNA double helix, Watson and Crick suggested that "spontaneous mutation may be due to a base occasionally occurring in one of its less likely tautomeric forms." Indeed, among many mispairing possibilities, either tautomerization or ionization of bases might allow a DNA polymerase to insert a mismatch with correct Watson-Crick geometry. However, despite substantial progress in understanding the structural basis of error prevention during polymerization, no DNA polymerase has yet been shown to form a natural base-base mismatch with Watson-Crick-like geometry. Here we provide such evidence, in the form of a crystal structure of a human DNA polymerase λ variant poised to misinsert dGTP opposite a template T. All atoms needed for catalysis are present at the active site and in positions that overlay with those for a correct base pair. The mismatch has Watson-Crick geometry consistent with a tautomeric or ionized base pair, with the pH dependence of misinsertion consistent with the latter. The results support the original idea that a base substitution can originate from a mismatch having Watson-Crick geometry, and they suggest a common catalytic mechanism for inserting a correct and an incorrect nucleotide. A second structure indicates that after misinsertion, the now primer-terminal G • T mismatch is also poised for catalysis but in the wobble conformation seen in other studies, indicating the dynamic nature of the pathway required to create a mismatch in fully duplex DNA.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Pair Mismatch*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation


  • DNA

Associated data

  • PDB/3PML
  • PDB/3PMN
  • PDB/3PNC