Functional analysis of the catalytic triad of the hAT-family transposase TcBuster

Plasmid. 2021 Mar;114:102554. doi: 10.1016/j.plasmid.2021.102554. Epub 2021 Jan 18.


TcBuster is a hAT-family DNA transposon from the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum. The TcBuster transposase is of interest for genome engineering as it is highly active in insect and mammalian cells. To test the predicted catalytic triad of TcBuster, each residue of the catalytic triad of a haemagglutinin-tagged TcBuster transposase was individually mutated to a structurally conserved amino acid. Using a drug-resistant colony assay for transposon integration, we found that the D223N, D289N, and E589Q mutants of TcBuster transposase were inactive in human cells. We used a modified chromatin immunoprecipitation assay to determine that each mutant maintained binding to TcBuster transposon inverted repeat elements. Although the catalytic mutants retained their transposon binding properties, mutants displayed altered expression and localization in human cells. None of the catalytic mutants formed characteristic TcBuster transposase rodlet structures, and the D223N and D289N mutants were not able to be detected by immunofluorescence microscopy. Immunoblot analysis demonstrated that the E589Q mutant is less abundant than wild-type TcBuster transposase. Cells transfected with either TcBuster or TcBuster-E589Q transposase were imaged by structured illumination microscopy to quantify differences in the length of the transposase rodlets. The average length of the TcBuster transposase rodlets (N = 39) was 3.284 μm while the E589Q rodlets (N = 33) averaged 1.157 μm (p < 0.0001; t-test). The catalytic triad mutations decreased overall protein levels and disrupted transposase rodlet formation while nuclear localization and DNA binding to the inverted repeat elements were maintained. Our results may have broader implications for the overproduction inhibition phenomenon observed for DNA transposons.

Keywords: (3−10): Transposon; Catalytic triad; Localization; Rodlet; Transposase; hAT.