Single-molecule views of protein movement on single-stranded DNA

Annu Rev Biophys. 2012:41:295-319. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-042910-155351. Epub 2012 Feb 23.


The advent of new technologies allowing the study of single biological molecules continues to have a major impact on studies of interacting systems as well as enzyme reactions. These approaches (fluorescence, optical, and magnetic tweezers), in combination with ensemble methods, have been particularly useful for mechanistic studies of protein-nucleic acid interactions and enzymes that function on nucleic acids. We review progress in the use of single-molecule methods to observe and perturb the activities of proteins and enzymes that function on flexible single-stranded DNA. These include single-stranded DNA binding proteins, recombinases (RecA/Rad51), and helicases/translocases that operate as motor proteins and play central roles in genome maintenance. We emphasize methods that have been used to detect and study the movement of these proteins (both ATP-dependent directional and random movement) along the single-stranded DNA and the mechanistic and functional information that can result from detailed analysis of such movement.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Helicases / metabolism
  • DNA, Single-Stranded / metabolism*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Rad51 Recombinase / chemistry
  • Rad51 Recombinase / metabolism
  • Rec A Recombinases / chemistry
  • Rec A Recombinases / metabolism
  • Recombinases / metabolism


  • DNA, Single-Stranded
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Recombinases
  • Rad51 Recombinase
  • Rec A Recombinases
  • DNA Helicases