Structural and functional studies of the human mitochondrial DNA polymerase
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The human mitochondrial DNA polymerase (Pol γ) catalyzes mitochondrial DNA synthesis, and thus is essential for the integrity of the organelle. Mutations of Pol γ have been implicated in more than 150 human diseases. Reduced Pol γ activity caused by inhibition of anti-HIV drugs targeted to HIV reverse transcriptase confers major drug toxicity. To illustrate the structural basis for mtDNA replication and facilitate rational design of antiviral drugs, I have determined the crystal structure of human Pol γ holoenzyme. The structure reveals heterotrimer architecture of Pol γ holoenzyme with a monomeric catalytic subunit Pol γA, and a dimeric processivity factor Pol γB. While the polymerase and exonuclease domains in Pol γA present high structural homology with the other members of the DNA Pol I family, the spacer between the two functional domains shows a unique fold, and constitutes the subunit interface. The structure suggests a novel mechanism for Pol γ’s high processivity of DNA replication. Furthermore, the structure reveals dissimilarity in the active sites between Pol γ and HIV RT, thereby indicating an exploitable space for design of less toxic anti-HIV drugs. Interestingly, the structure shows an asymmetric subunit interaction, that is, one monomer of dimeric Pol γB primarily participates in interactions with Pol γA. To understand the roles of each Pol γB monomer, I generated a monomeric human Pol γB variant by disrupting the dimeric interface of the subunit. Comparative studies of this variant and dimeric wild-type Pol γB reveal that each monomer in the dimeric Pol γB makes a distinct contribution to processivity: one monomer (proximal to Pol γA) increases DNA binding affinity whereas the other monomer (distal to Pol γA) enhances the rate of polymerization. The pol γ holoenzyme structure also gives a rationale to establish the genotypic-phenotypic relationship of many disease-implicated mutations, especially for those located outside of the conserved pol or exo domains. Using the structure as a guide, I characterized a substitution of Pol γA residue R232 that is located at the subunit interface but far from either active sites. Kinetic analyses reveal that the mutation has no effect on intrinsic Pol γA activity, but shows functional defects in the holoenzyme, including decreased polymerase activity and increased exonuclease activity, as well as reduced discrimination between mismatched and corrected base pair. Results provide a molecular rationale for the Pol γA-R232 substitution mediated mitochondrial diseases.