Abasic sites are highly mutagenic lesions in DNA that arise as intermediates in the excision repair of modified bases. These sites are generated by the action of damage-specific DNA glycosylases and are converted into downstream intermediates by the specific activity of apurinic/apyrimidinic endonucleases. Enzymes in both families have been observed in crystal structures to impose deformations on the abasic-site DNA, including DNA kinking and base flipping. On the basis of these apparent protein-induced deformations, we propose that altered conformation and dynamics of abasic sites may contribute to the specificity of these repair enzymes. Previously, measurements of the steady-state fluorescence of the adenine analogue 2-aminopurine (2AP) opposite an abasic site demonstrated that binding of divalent cations could induce a conformational change that increased the accessibility of 2AP to solute quenching [Stivers, J. T. (1998) Nucleic Acids Res. 26, 3837-44]. We have performed time-resolved fluorescence experiments to characterize the states involved in this conformational change. Interpretation of these studies is based on a recently developed model attributing the static and dynamic fluorescence quenching of 2AP in DNA to aromatic stacking and collisional interactions with neighboring bases, respectively (see the preceding paper in this issue). The time-resolved fluorescence results indicate that divalent cation binding shifts the equilibrium of the abasic site between two conformations: a "closed" state, characterized by short average fluorescence lifetime and complex decay kinetics, and an "open" state, characterized by monoexponential decay with lifetime approximately that of the free nucleoside. Because the lifetime and intensity decay kinetics of 2AP incorporated into DNA are sensitive primarily to collisional interactions with the neighboring bases, the absence of dynamic quenching in the open state strongly suggests that the fluorescent base is extrahelical in this conformation. Consistent with this interpretation, time-resolved quenching studies reveal that the open state is accessible to solute quenching by potassium iodide, but the closed state is not. Greater static quenching is observed in the abasic site when the fluorescent base is flanked by 5′- and 3′-thymines than in the context of 5′- and 3′-adenines, indicating that 2AP is more stacked with the neighboring bases in the former sequence. These results imply that the conformation of the abasic site varies in a sequence-dependent manner. Undamaged sequences in which the abasic site is replaced by thymine do not exhibit an open state and have different levels of both static and dynamic quenching than their damaged homologues. These differences in structure and dynamics may be significant determinants of the high specific affinity of repair enzymes for the abasic site.
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