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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Terace M. Fletcher

Second Committee Member

Lawrence Boise

Third Committee Member

Richard S. Myers

Fourth Committee Member

Arun Malhotra

Fifth Committee Member

Susan Lovett


DNA is the central storage molecule for genetic information in the cell. Therefore, the DNA must be protected from damage that will otherwise be passed on to future generations as deleterious mutations. Although many different pathways have evolved for repairing different classes of damage there are certain features that are common to all repair pathways. Generically, for DNA damage to be repaired it must first be recognized, then excised and replaced with undamaged DNA. DNA damage recognition is highly varied since specific interactions are required between the protein and the damaged DNA. DNA damage repair, paradoxically, requires the action of highly processive nucleases. The nucleases may digest hundreds if not thousands of nucleotides, sometimes for the repair of a single mutant nucleotide. We have chosen to focus on Exonuclease VII (ExoVII), one of the processive nucleases that have been implicated in the process of Mismatch Repair (MMR). ExoVII is a hetero-pentameric enzyme composed of one large subunit (XseA) and four small subunits (XseB). It has been previously characterized as a processive, single-strand specific nuclease able to digest DNA in either the 5'->3' or 3'->5' direction by a metalindependent mechanism. Early studies have shown that although ExoVII is a hydrolytic nuclease it was completely active in the presence of large amounts of EDTA and was strongly stimulated by phosphate. This feature is unusual because hydrolytic DNA nucleases typically function by a mechanism that requires coordination of a divalent cation. To further our understanding of the mechanism ExoVII we have identified and characterized the ExoVII homolog from Thermotoga maritima (T. maritima, Tm), a hyperthermophilic bacterium. The genes responsible for Tm ExoVII (TM1768 and TM1769) were cloned into an overexpression construct and the resulting proteins were overexpressed, co-purified and characterized. Consistent with previous studies, we found that Tm ExoVII is a processive, single-strand specific nuclease. Surprisingly, unlike Ec ExoVII, the T. maritima homolog was found to have an absolute requirement for the divalent cation magnesium and was strongly inhibited by the presence of either phosphate or sulfate in the reaction buffer. Using multiple sequence alignments of the large subunit we have identified a conserved core present within the C-terminal ExoVII_Large domain. This conserved core, RGGGx27GHx2Dx4Dx9P, although unique among nucleases, is reminiscent of a metal-coordinating hydrolytic active site. We have tested this putative active site using site-directed mutagenesis to create the TmD235A/TmD240A double mutant. This mutant protein was purified and the resulting protein was found to be inactive. We propose that this conserved core represents the metal-coordinating active site of all ExoVII homologs and that the group of E. coli-like homologs are unique in their EDTA resistance and anion (phosphate and sulfate) stimulation. Since ExoVII is a bi-directional nuclease (both 5'->3' and 3'->5' activity), and MMR is a bi-directional process, our model was that ExoVII was the primary nuclease associated with MMR. To test this model and determine if, in fact, a minimal conserved MMR pathway can be defined, we performed an analysis of the genomic occurrence profiles for the genes involved in MMR. To do this we have developed a bioinformatic application, Magma, which assists in the creation of a searchable relational database. Using Magma we have found that MutH, the enzyme responsible for generating a nick that directs MMR to excise the newly synthesized DNA strand including a DNA mispair, is only present in E. coli and a subset of gamma-proteobacteria, suggesting that MutH is not a core component of MMR. Instead, most organisms employ a nicking activity found in the MutL subunit. We also show that, although four nucleases have been implicated as having "redundant" roles in bacterial mismatch repair, RecJ is the primary nuclease responsible for degrading the mutated DNA strand and that 5'->3' single-strand exonuclease activity is a core MMR component. From this analysis, it appears that prokaryotic mismatch repair is more similar to eukaryotic mismatch repair than was previously thought, from the genetic and biochemical work done in E. coli. We offer a model for a universal minimal MMR system.


Nuclease; DNA Damage; DNA Repair; Mismatch; Thermophilic