The defining event in homologous recombination is the exchange of base-paired partners between a single-stranded (ss) DNA and a homologous duplex driven by recombinase proteins, such as human RAD51. To understand the mechanism of this essential genome maintenance event, we analyzed the structure of RAD51-DNA complexes representing strand exchange intermediates at nanometer resolution by scanning force microscopy. Joint molecules were formed between substrates with a defined ssDNA segment and homologous region on a double-stranded (ds) partner. We discovered and quantified several notable architectural features of RAD51 joint molecules. Each end of the RAD51-bound joints had a distinct structure. Using linear substrates, a 10-nt region of mispaired bases blocked extension of joint molecules in all examples observed, whereas 4 nt of heterology only partially blocked joint molecule extension. Joint molecules, including 10 nt of heterology, had paired DNA on either side of the heterologous substitution, indicating that pairing could initiate from the free 3'end of ssDNA or from a region adjacent to the ss-ds junction. RAD51 filaments covering joint ss-dsDNA regions were more stable to disassembly than filaments covering dsDNA. We discuss how distinct structural features of RAD51-bound DNA joints can play important roles as recognition sites for proteins that facilitate and control strand exchange.
- EMC MGC-01-12-03
- EMC MM-03-32-04