Homologous DNA strand exchange activity of the human mitochondrial DNA helicase TWINKLE

Nucleic Acids Res. 2016 May 19;44(9):4200-10. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkw098. Epub 2016 Feb 16.


A crucial component of the human mitochondrial DNA replisome is the ring-shaped helicase TWINKLE-a phage T7-gene 4-like protein expressed in the nucleus and localized in the human mitochondria. Our previous studies showed that despite being a helicase, TWINKLE has unique DNA annealing activity. At the time, the implications of DNA annealing by TWINKLE were unclear. Herein, we report that TWINKLE uses DNA annealing function to actively catalyze strand-exchange reaction between the unwinding substrate and a homologous single-stranded DNA. Using various biochemical experiments, we demonstrate that the mechanism of strand-exchange involves active coupling of unwinding and annealing reactions by the TWINKLE. Unlike strand-annealing, the strand-exchange reaction requires nucleotide hydrolysis and greatly stimulated by short region of homology between the recombining DNA strands that promote joint molecule formation to initiate strand-exchange. Furthermore, we show that TWINKLE catalyzes branch migration by resolving homologous four-way junction DNA. These four DNA modifying activities of TWINKLE: strand-separation, strand-annealing, strand-exchange and branch migration suggest a dual role of TWINKLE in mitochondrial DNA maintenance. In addition to playing a major role in fork progression during leading strand DNA synthesis, we propose that TWINKLE is involved in recombinational repair of the human mitochondrial DNA.

MeSH terms

  • Base Pairing
  • Biocatalysis
  • DNA Helicases / chemistry*
  • DNA Helicases / physiology
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / chemistry
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / physiology
  • DNA, Single-Stranded / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / physiology
  • Protein Binding


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA, Single-Stranded
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • DNA Helicases
  • TWNK protein, human