Enzymes of the RecA/Rad51 family catalyze DNA strand exchange reactions that are important for homologous recombination and for the accurate repair of DNA double-strand breaks. RecA/Rad51 recombinases are activated by their assembly into presynaptic filaments on single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), a process that is regulated by ssDNA binding protein (SSB) and mediator proteins. Mediator proteins stimulate strand exchange by accelerating the rate-limiting displacement of SSB from ssDNA by the incoming recombinase. The use of mediators is a highly conserved strategy in recombination, but the precise mechanism of mediator activity is unknown. In this study, the well-defined bacteriophage T4 recombination system (UvsX recombinase, Gp32 SSB, and UvsY mediator) is used to examine the kinetics of presynaptic filament assembly on native ssDNA in vitro. Results indicate that the ATP-dependent assembly of UvsX presynaptic filaments on Gp32-covered ssDNA is limited by a salt-sensitive nucleation step in the absence of mediator. Filament nucleation is selectively enhanced and rendered salt-resistant by mediator protein UvsY, which appears to stabilize a prenucleation complex. This mechanism potentially explains how UvsY promotes presynaptic filament assembly at physiologically relevant ionic strengths and Gp32 concentrations. Other data suggest that presynaptic filament assembly involves multiple nucleation events, resulting in many short UvsX-ssDNA filaments or clusters, which may be the relevant form for recombination in vivo. Together, these findings provide the first detailed kinetic model for presynaptic filament assembly involving all three major protein components (recombinase, mediator, and SSB) on native ssDNA.
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