Engineering altered protein-DNA recognition specificity

Nucleic Acids Res. 2018 Jun 1;46(10):4845-4871. doi: 10.1093/nar/gky289.


Protein engineering is used to generate novel protein folds and assemblages, to impart new properties and functions onto existing proteins, and to enhance our understanding of principles that govern protein structure. While such approaches can be employed to reprogram protein-protein interactions, modifying protein-DNA interactions is more difficult. This may be related to the structural features of protein-DNA interfaces, which display more charged groups, directional hydrogen bonds, ordered solvent molecules and counterions than comparable protein interfaces. Nevertheless, progress has been made in the redesign of protein-DNA specificity, much of it driven by the development of engineered enzymes for genome modification. Here, we summarize the creation of novel DNA specificities for zinc finger proteins, meganucleases, TAL effectors, recombinases and restriction endonucleases. The ease of re-engineering each system is related both to the modularity of the protein and the extent to which the proteins have evolved to be capable of readily modifying their recognition specificities in response to natural selection. The development of engineered DNA binding proteins that display an ideal combination of activity, specificity, deliverability, and outcomes is not a fully solved problem, however each of the current platforms offers unique advantages, offset by behaviors and properties requiring further study and development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Pairing
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • DNA Cleavage
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes / chemistry
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes / genetics
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Deoxyribonucleases / chemistry
  • Deoxyribonucleases / genetics
  • Deoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • Gene Editing
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism*
  • Recombinases / chemistry
  • Recombinases / genetics
  • Recombinases / metabolism
  • Transcription Activator-Like Effectors / chemistry
  • Transcription Activator-Like Effectors / genetics
  • Transcription Activator-Like Effectors / metabolism
  • Zinc Fingers


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Recombinases
  • Transcription Activator-Like Effectors
  • DNA
  • Deoxyribonucleases
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes