Modifying a covarying protein–DNA interaction changes substrate preference of a site-specific endonuclease Academic Article uri icon

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  • Abstract Identifying and validating intermolecular covariation between proteins and their DNA-binding sites can provide insights into mechanisms that regulate selectivity and starting points for engineering new specificity. LAGLIDADG homing endonucleases (meganucleases) can be engineered to bind non-native target sites for gene-editing applications, but not all redesigns successfully reprogram specificity. To gain a global overview of residues that influence meganuclease specificity, we used information theory to identify protein–DNA covariation. Directed evolution experiments of one predicted pair, 227/+3, revealed variants with surprising shifts in I-OnuI substrate preference at the central 4 bases where cleavage occurs. Structural studies showed significant remodeling distant from the covarying position, including restructuring of an inter-hairpin loop, DNA distortions near the scissile phosphates, and new base-specific contacts. Our findings are consistent with a model whereby the functional impacts of covariation can be indirectly propagated to neighboring residues outside of direct contact range, allowing meganucleases to adapt to target site variation and indirectly expand the sequence space accessible for cleavage. We suggest that some engineered meganucleases may have unexpected cleavage profiles that were not rationally incorporated during the design process.


  • Laforet, Marc
  • McMurrough, Thomas A
  • Vu, Michael
  • Brown, Christopher M
  • Zhang, Kun
  • Junop, Murray
  • Gloor, Gregory B
  • Edgell, David R

publication date

  • November 18, 2019