Document Type


Publication Date



In Cre site-specific recombination, the synaptic intermediate is a recombinase homotetramer containing a pair of loxP DNA target sites. The enzyme system's strand-exchange mechanism proceeds via a Holliday-junction (HJ) intermediate; however, the geometry of DNA segments in the synapse has remained highly controversial. In particular, all crystallographic structures are consistent with an achiral, planar Holliday-junction (HJ) structure, whereas topological assays based on Cre-mediated knotting of plasmid DNAs are consistent with a right-handed chiral junction. We use the kinetics of loop closure involving closely spaced (131–151 bp) loxP sites to investigate the in-aqueo ensemble of conformations for the longest-lived looped DNA intermediate. Fitting the experimental site-spacing dependence of the loop-closure probability, J, to a statistical-mechanical theory of DNA looping provides evidence for substantial out-of-plane HJ distortion, which unequivocally stands in contrast to the square-planar intermediate geometry from Cre-loxP crystal structures and those of other int-superfamily recombinases. J measurements for an HJ-isomerization-deficient Cre mutant suggest that the apparent geometry of the wild-type complex is consistent with temporal averaging of right-handed and achiral structures. Our approach connects the static pictures provided by crystal structures and the natural dynamics of macromolecules in solution, thus advancing a more comprehensive dynamic analysis of large nucleoprotein structures and their mechanisms.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Title

Nucleic Acids Research





To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.