Human uracil DNA glycosylase (hUNG) follows an extended reaction coordinate for locating rare uracil bases in genomic DNA. This process begins with diffusion-controlled engagement of undamaged DNA, followed by a damage search step in which the enzyme remains loosely associated with the DNA chain (translocation), and finally, a recognition step that allows the enzyme to efficiently bind and excise uracil when it is encountered. At each step along this coordinate, the enzyme must form DNA interactions that are highly specialized for either rapid damage searching or catalysis. Here we make extensive measurements of hUNG activity as a function of salt concentration to dissect the thermodynamic, kinetic, and electrostatic properties of key enzyme states along this reaction coordinate. We find that the interaction of hUNG with undamaged DNA is electrostatically driven at a physiological concentration of potassium ions (ΔGelect = -3.5 ± 0.5 kcal mol-1), with only a small nonelectrostatic contribution (ΔGnon = -2.0 ± 0.2 kcal mol-1). In contrast, the interaction with damaged DNA is dominated by the nonelectrostatic free energy term (ΔGnon = -7.2 ± 0.1 kcal mol-1), yet retains the nonspecific electrostatic contribution (ΔGelect = -2.3 ± 0.2 kcal mol-1). Stopped-flow kinetic experiments established that the salt sensitivity of damaged DNA binding originates from a reduction of kon, while koff is weakly dependent on salt. Similar findings were obtained from the salt dependences of the steady-state kinetic parameters, where the diffusion-controlled kcat/Km showed a salt dependence similar to kon, while kcat (limited by product release) was weakly dependent on salt. Finally, the salt dependence of translocation between two uracil sites separated by 20 bp in the same DNA chain was indistinguishable from that of kon. This result suggests that the transition-state for translocation over this spacing resembles that for DNA association from bulk solution and that hUNG escapes the DNA ion cloud during translocation. These findings provide key insights into how the ionic environment in cells influences the DNA damage search pathway. (Figure Presented).
ASJC Scopus subject areas