Type II topoisomerases are required for the management of DNA tangles and supercoils1, and are targets of clinical antibiotics and anti-cancer agents2. These enzymes catalyse the ATP-dependent passage of one DNA duplex (the transport or T-segment) through a transient, double-stranded break in another (the gate or G-segment), navigating DNA through the protein using a set of dissociable internal interfaces, or gates3,4. For more than 20 years, it has been established that a pair of dimer-related tyrosines, together with divalent cations, catalyse G-segment cleavage5-7. Recent efforts have proposed that strand scission relies on a two-metal mechanism 8-10, a ubiquitous biochemical strategy that supports vital cellular processes ranging from DNA synthesis to RNA self-splicing11,12. Here we present the structure of the DNA-binding and cleavage core of Saccharomyces cerevisiae topoisomerase II covalently linked to DNA through its active-site tyrosine at 2.5 resolution, revealing for the first time the organization of a cleavage-competent type II topoisomerase configuration. Unexpectedly, metal-soaking experiments indicate that cleavage is catalysed by a novel variation of the classic two-metal approach. Comparative analyses extend this scheme to explain how distantly-related type IA topoisomerases cleave single-stranded DNA, unifying the cleavage mechanisms for these two essential enzyme families. The structure also highlights a hitherto undiscovered allosteric relay that actuates a molecular trapdoor to prevent subunit dissociation during cleavage. This connection illustrates how an indispensable chromosome-disentangling machine auto-regulates DNA breakage to prevent the aberrant formation of mutagenic and cytotoxic genomic lesions.
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