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Title: Real-time single-molecule observations of conformational changes in DNA polymerase
Author: Evans, Geraint Wyn
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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Genetic information is encoded in the long sequence of bases which form DNA, which is replicated during cell division by enzymes known as DNA Polymerases. Polymerases replicate DNA extremely accurately to avoid errors which can cause cell death and diseases such as cancer, although the mechanisms behind these extraordinary fidelities are not well understood. A large conformational change in the protein, in which the “fingers" subdomain closes around an incoming nucleotide, is thought to be implicated in these fidelity mechanisms. Here we present an assay to monitor this conformational change in single polymerase molecules, in real-time. We achieve this using total-internal-reflection-fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy to monitor the fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) of an intra-protein dye labelled DNA Polymerase I (KF) as it binds to surface-immobilised DNA. Initially, we investigated the polymerase fingers-conformations during the pre-chemistry polymerisation reaction, resolving forward and backward rates which would be challenging to observe using ensemble techniques. These observations confirmed that KF closes rapidly around complementary nucleotide, but we discovered that the reverse step, fingers-opening, is particularly slow relative to chemistry. These finger kinetics act to remove the influence of the reaction rate-limiting step on fidelity, surprising given decades of investigations have focused on the rate-limiting step as the key determinant of fidelity. We also use our kinetic measurements to quantify contributions of different reaction steps to the macroscopic error rate of the polymerase. Subsequently, we developed our assay to investigate the fingers-conformations across the entire DNA polymerisation reaction. We observed single-nucleotide incorporations, and processive DNA polymerisation at high and low nucleotide concentrations, which suggested heterogeneous nucleotide incorporation rates. The observations demonstrated that the post-chemistry slow step that limits processive polymerisation occurs before post-chemistry fingers-opening, or is accounted for by post-chemistry fingers-opening. We observe a correlation in turn-over kinetics and binary complex kinetics, suggesting that turn-over rates could be limited by the intrinsic dynamics of the binary complex, as seen in other protein systems, although more work is needed on this.
Supervisor: Kapandis, Achillefs Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Biophysics ; Enzymes ; Chemical kinetics ; Condensed Matter Physics