Evolutionary selection ensures specificity and efficiency in dynamic metastable macromolecular machines that repair DNA damage without releasing toxic and mutagenic intermediates. Here we examine non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) as the primary conserved DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair process in human cells. NHEJ has exemplary key roles in networks determining the development, outcome of cancer treatments by DSB-inducing agents, generation of antibody and T-cell receptor diversity, and innate immune response for RNA viruses. We determine mechanistic insights into NHEJ structural biochemistry focusing upon advanced small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) results combined with X-ray crystallography (MX) and cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). SAXS coupled to atomic structures enables integrated structural biology for objective quantitative assessment of conformational ensembles and assemblies in solution, intra-molecular distances, structural similarity, functional disorder, conformational switching, and flexibility. Importantly, NHEJ complexes in solution undergo larger allosteric transitions than seen in their cryo-EM or MX structures. In the long-range synaptic complex, X-ray repair cross-complementing 4 (XRCC4) plus XRCC4-like-factor (XLF) form a flexible bridge and linchpin for DNA ends bound to KU heterodimer (Ku70/80) and DNA-PKcs (DNA-dependent protein kinase catalytic subunit). Upon binding two DNA ends, auto-phosphorylation opens DNA-PKcs dimer licensing NHEJ via concerted conformational transformations of XLF-XRCC4, XLF-Ku80, and LigIVBRCT -Ku70 interfaces. Integrated structures reveal multifunctional roles for disordered linkers and modular dynamic interfaces promoting DSB end processing and alignment into the short-range complex for ligation by LigIV. Integrated findings define dynamic assemblies fundamental to designing separation-of-function mutants and allosteric inhibitors targeting conformational transitions in multifunctional complexes.
Keywords: DNA repair; backbone conformation; cancer; dynamic structures; functional dynamics; genome stability; quantitative flexibility; supramolecular structures; unstructured regions.
© 2021 The Authors. Protein Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Protein Society.