To maintain genomic integrity, DNA repair enzymes continually remove damaged bases and lesions resulting from endogenous and exogenous processes. These repair enzymes must distinguish damaged bases from normal bases to prevent the inadvertent removal of normal bases, which would promote genomic instability. The mechanisms by which this high level of specificity is accomplished are as yet unresolved. One member of the uracil-DNA glycosylase family of repair enzymes, Escherichia coli mismatch-specific uracil-DNA glycosylase (Mug), is reported to distinguish U:G mispairs from U:A base pairs based upon specific contacts with the mispaired guanine after flipping the target uracil out of the duplex. However, recent studies suggest other mechanisms for base selection, including local duplex stability. In this study, we used the modified base N6-methyladenine to probe the effect of local helix perturbation on Mug recognition of uracil. N6-Methyladenine is found in E. coli as part of both the mismatch repair and restriction-modification systems. In its cis isomer, N6-methyladenine destabilizes hydrogen bonding by interfering with pseudo-Watson-Crick base pairing. It is observed that the selection of uracil by Mug is sequence dependent and that uracil residues in sequences of reduced thermostability are preferentially removed. The replacement of adenine by N6methyladenine increases the frequency of removal of the uracil residue paired opposite the modified adenine. These results are in accord with suggestions that local helix stability is an important determinant of base recognition by some DNA repair enzymes and provide a potential strategy for identifying the sequence location of modified bases in DNA.
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