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  1. Abstract

    Bacteriophage T4 gene 32 protein (gp32) is a model single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) binding protein, essential for DNA replication. gp32 forms cooperative filaments on ssDNA through interprotein interactions between its core and N-terminus. However, detailed understanding of gp32 filament structure and organization remains incomplete, particularly for longer, biologically-relevant DNA lengths. Moreover, it is unclear how these tightly-bound filaments dissociate from ssDNA during complementary strand synthesis. We use optical tweezers and atomic force microscopy to probe the structure and binding dynamics of gp32 on long (∼8 knt) ssDNA substrates. We find that cooperative binding of gp32 rigidifies ssDNA while also reducing its contour length, consistent with the ssDNA helically winding around the gp32 filament. While measured rates of gp32 binding and dissociation indicate nM binding affinity, at ∼1000-fold higher protein concentrations gp32 continues to bind into and restructure the gp32–ssDNA filament, leading to an increase in its helical pitch and elongation of the substrate. Furthermore, the oversaturated gp32–ssDNA filament becomes progressively unwound and unstable as observed by the appearance of a rapid, noncooperative protein dissociation phase not seen at lower complex saturation, suggesting a possible mechanism for prompt removal of gp32 from the overcrowded ssDNA in front of the polymerase during replication.

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  2. Abstract

    The SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein performs several functions including binding, compacting, and packaging the ∼30 kb viral genome into the viral particle. N protein consists of two ordered domains, with the N terminal domain (NTD) primarily associated with RNA binding and the C terminal domain (CTD) primarily associated with dimerization/oligomerization, and three intrinsically disordered regions, an N-arm, a C-tail, and a linker that connects the NTD and CTD. We utilize an optical tweezers system to isolate a long single-stranded nucleic acid substrate to measure directly the binding and packaging function of N protein at a single molecule level in real time. We find that N protein binds the nucleic acid substrate with high affinity before oligomerizing and forming a highly compact structure. By comparing the activities of truncated protein variants missing the NTD, CTD, and/or linker, we attribute specific steps in this process to the structural domains of N protein, with the NTD driving initial binding to the substrate and ensuring high localized protein density that triggers interprotein interactions mediated by the CTD, which forms a compact and stable protein-nucleic acid complex suitable for packaging into the virion.

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  3. Abstract

    Long interspersed nuclear element 1 (L1) parasitized most vertebrates and constitutes ∼20% of the human genome. It encodes ORF1p and ORF2p which form an L1-ribonucleoprotein (RNP) with their encoding transcript that is copied into genomic DNA (retrotransposition). ORF1p binds single-stranded nucleic acid (ssNA) and exhibits NA chaperone activity. All vertebrate ORF1ps contain a coiled coil (CC) domain and we previously showed that a CC-retrotransposition null mutant prevented formation of stably bound ORF1p complexes on ssNA. Here, we compared CC variants using our recently improved method that measures ORF1p binding to ssDNA at different forces. Bound proteins decrease ssDNA contour length and at low force, retrotransposition-competent ORF1ps (111p and m14p) exhibit two shortening phases: the first is rapid, coincident with ORF1p binding; the second is slower, consistent with formation of tightly compacted complexes by NA-bound ORF1p. In contrast, two retrotransposition-null CC variants (151p and m15p) did not attain the second tightly compacted state. The C-terminal half of the ORF1p trimer (not the CC) contains the residues that mediate NA-binding. Our demonstrating that the CC governs the ability of NA-bound retrotransposition-competent trimers to form tightly compacted complexes reveals the biochemical phenotype of these coiled coil mutants.

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  4. The HIV-1 nucleocapsid protein (NC) is a multi-functional protein necessary for viral replication. Recent studies have demonstrated reverse transcription occurs inside the fully intact viral capsid and that the timing of reverse transcription and uncoating are correlated. How a nearly 10 kbp viral DNA genome is stably contained within a narrow capsid with diameter similar to the persistence length of double-stranded (ds) DNA, and the role of NC in this process, are not well understood. In this study, we use optical tweezers, fluorescence imaging, and atomic force microscopy to observe NC binding a single long DNA substrate in multiple modes. We find that NC binds and saturates the DNA substrate in a non-specific binding mode that triggers uniform DNA self-attraction, condensing the DNA into a tight globule at a constant force up to 10 pN. When NC is removed from solution, the globule dissipates over time, but specifically-bound NC maintains long-range DNA looping that is less compact but highly stable. Both binding modes are additionally observed using AFM imaging. These results suggest multiple binding modes of NC compact DNA into a conformation compatible with reverse transcription, regulating the genomic pressure on the capsid and preventing premature uncoating. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Escherichia coli SSB (EcSSB) is a model single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) binding protein critical in genome maintenance. EcSSB forms homotetramers that wrap ssDNA in multiple conformations to facilitate DNA replication and repair. Here we measure the binding and wrapping of many EcSSB proteins to a single long ssDNA substrate held at fixed tensions. We show EcSSB binds in a biphasic manner, where initial wrapping events are followed by unwrapping events as ssDNA-bound protein density passes critical saturation and high free protein concentration increases the fraction of EcSSBs in less-wrapped conformations. By destabilizing EcSSB wrapping through increased substrate tension, decreased substrate length, and protein mutation, we also directly observe an unstable bound but unwrapped state in which ∼8 nucleotides of ssDNA are bound by a single domain, which could act as a transition state through which rapid reorganization of the EcSSB–ssDNA complex occurs. When ssDNA is over-saturated, stimulated dissociation rapidly removes excess EcSSB, leaving an array of stably-wrapped complexes. These results provide a mechanism through which otherwise stably bound and wrapped EcSSB tetramers are rapidly removed from ssDNA to allow for DNA maintenance and replication functions, while still fully protecting ssDNA over a wide range of protein concentrations. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Retroviral nucleocapsid (NC) proteins are nucleic acid chaperones that play distinct roles in the viral life cycle. During reverse transcription, HIV-1 NC facilitates the rearrangement of nucleic acid secondary structures, allowing the transactivation response (TAR) RNA hairpin to be transiently destabilized and annealed to a complementary RNA hairpin. In contrast, during viral assembly, NC, as a domain of the group-specific antigen (Gag) polyprotein, binds the genomic RNA and facilitates packaging into new virions. It is not clear how the same protein, alone or as part of Gag, performs such different RNA binding functions in the viral life cycle. By combining single-molecule optical tweezers measurements with a quantitative mfold-based model, we characterize the equilibrium stability and unfolding barrier for TAR RNA. Comparing measured results with a model of discrete protein binding allows us to localize affected binding sites, in addition to quantifying hairpin stability. We find that, while both NCp7 and Gag∆p6 destabilize the TAR hairpin, Gag∆p6 binding is localized to two sites in the stem, while NCp7 targets sites near the top loop. Unlike Gag∆p6, NCp7 destabilizes this loop, shifting the location of the reaction barrier toward the folded state and increasing the natural rate of hairpin opening by ~104. Thus, our results explain why Gag cleavage and NC release is an essential prerequisite for reverse transcription within the virion. 
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