A key aspect of the reaction mechanism of type IB topoisomerases is the controlled unwinding of DNA supercoils while the enzyme is transiently bound to one strand of the DNA duplex via a phosphotyrosyl linkage. In this complex, the mobile segment of the bound DNA downstream from the site of cleavage must rotate around the helical axis, requiring that interactions with the enzyme must break and re-form multiple times during the course of removing supercoils. A crystal structure of variola virus type IB topoisomerase (vTopo) bound to DNA shows several positively charged side chains that interact with the downstream mobile and upstream rigid segments, suggesting that these groups may play a role in catalysis, including the processive unwinding of supercoils. We have mutated three such residues, R67, K35, and K271, to Ala and Glu and determined the energetic effects of these mutations at each point along the reaction coordinate of vTopo. R67 interacts with a phosphate group in the rigid DNA segment across from the site of DNA strand cleavage. The ∼30-fold damaging effects of the R67A and R67E mutations were primarily on the phosphoryl transfer step, with little effect on enzyme-DNA binding, or the processivity of supercoil unwinding. Removal of the K35 interaction shows mutational effects similar to those of R67, even though this residue interacts with the mobile segment 3 bp from the cleavage site. The two mutations of K271, which interacts with the mobile region even further from the site of covalent linkage, show significant effects not only on phosphoryl transfer but also on downstream DNA strand positioning. Moreover, supercoil unwinding measurements indicate that the K271A and K271E mutations increase the average number of supercoils that are removed during the lifetime of the covalent complex, enhancing the processivity of supercoil unwinding. These measurements support the proposal that the processivity of supercoil unwinding can be regulated by electrostatic interactions between the enzyme and the mobile DNA phosphate backbone.
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