Functional instability allows access to DNA in longer transcription Activator-Like effector (TALE) arrays

Elife. 2019 Feb 27:8:e38298. doi: 10.7554/eLife.38298.


Transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) bind DNA through an array of tandem 34-residue repeats. How TALE repeat domains wrap around DNA, often extending more than 1.5 helical turns, without using external energy is not well understood. Here, we examine the kinetics of DNA binding of TALE arrays with varying numbers of identical repeats. Single molecule fluorescence analysis and deterministic modeling reveal conformational heterogeneity in both the free- and DNA-bound TALE arrays. Our findings, combined with previously identified partly folded states, indicate a TALE instability that is functionally important for DNA binding. For TALEs forming less than one superhelical turn around DNA, partly folded states inhibit DNA binding. In contrast, for TALEs forming more than one turn, partly folded states facilitate DNA binding, demonstrating a mode of 'functional instability' that facilitates macromolecular assembly. Increasing repeat number slows down interconversion between the various DNA-free and DNA-bound states.

Keywords: FRET; TALE repeat; biochemistry; chemical biology; deterministic modeling; functional instability; molecular biophysics; none; single-molecule biophysics; structural biology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Single Molecule Imaging
  • Transcription Activator-Like Effectors / metabolism*


  • Transcription Activator-Like Effectors
  • DNA