Type II DNA topoisomerases: enzymes that can unknot a topologically knotted DNA molecule via a reversible double-strand break

Cell. 1980 Mar;19(3):697-707. doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(80)80046-8.


The T4 DNA topoisomerase is a recently discovered multisubunit protein that appears to have an essential role in the initiation of T4 bacteriophage DND replication. Treatment of double-stranded circular DNA with large amounts of this topoisomerase in the absence of ATP yields new DNA species which are knotted topological isomers of the double-stranded DNA circle. These knotted DNA circles, whether covalently closed or nicked, are converted to unknotted circles by treatment with trace amounts of the T4 topoisomerase in the presence of ATP. Very similar ATP-dependent enzyme activities capable of unknotting DNA are present in extracts of Drosophila eggs. Xenopus laevis eggs and mammalian tissue culture cells. The procaryotic enzyme, DNA gyrase, is also capable of unknotting DNA. We propose that these unknotting enzymes constitute a new general class of DNA topoisomerases (type II DNA topoisomerases). These enzymes must act via mechanisms that involve the concerted cleavage and rejoining of two opposite DNA strands, such that the DNA double helix is transiently broken. The passage of a second double-stranded DNA segment through this reversible double-strand break results in a variety of DNA topoisomerization reactions, including relaxation:super-coiling; knotting:unknotting and catenation:decatenation. In support of this type of mechanism, we demonstrate that the T4 DNA topoisomerase changes the linking number of a covalently closed double-stranded circular DNA molecule only by multiples of two. We discuss the possible roles of such enzymes in a variety of biological functions, along with their probable molecular mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cricetinae
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I / metabolism*
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type II / metabolism
  • DNA, Circular / metabolism*
  • DNA, Superhelical / metabolism
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism*
  • Drosophila / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Female
  • Micrococcus / enzymology
  • Ovum / enzymology
  • T-Phages / enzymology*
  • Xenopus


  • DNA, Circular
  • DNA, Superhelical
  • DNA, Viral
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type II