The energetic nature of the interactions of DNA base excision repair glycosylases with undamaged and damaged DNA and the nuclear environment are expected to significantly impact the time it takes for these enzymes to search for damaged DNA bases. In particular, the high concentration of monovalent ions, macromolecule crowding, and densely packed DNA chains in the cell nucleus could alter the search mechanisms of these enzymes as compared to findings in dilute buffers typically used in in vitro experiments. Here we utilize an in vitro system where the concerted effects of monovalent ions, macromolecular crowding, and high concentrations of bulk DNA chains on the activity of two paradigm human DNA glycosylases can be determined. We find that the energetic nature of the observed binding free energies of human 8-oxoguanine DNA glycosylase (hOGG1) and human uracil DNA glycosylase (hUNG) for undamaged DNA are derived from different sources. Although hOGG1 uses primarily nonelectrostatic binding interactions with nonspecific DNA, hUNG uses a salt-dependent electrostatic binding mode. Both enzymes turn to a nonelectrostatic mode in their specific complexes with damaged bases in DNA, which enhances damage site specificity at physiological ion concentrations. Neither enzyme was capable of efficiently locating and removing their respective damaged bases in the combined presence of physiological ions and a bulk DNA chain density approximating that found in the nucleus. However, the addition of an inert crowding agent to mimic macromolecular crowding in the nucleus largely restored their ability to track DNA chains and locate damaged sites. These findings suggest how the concerted action of monovalent ions and crowding could contribute to efficient DNA damage recognition in cells.
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