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The DNA within cells contains the instructions necessary for life and it must be carefully maintained. DNA is constantly being damaged by radiation and other factors so cells have evolved an arsenal of mechanisms that repair this damage. An enzyme called Rad51 drives one such DNA repair process known as homologous recombination.
A pair of regulatory proteins known as the Swi5-Sfr1 complex binds to Rad51 and activates it. The complex can be thought of as containing two modules with distinct roles: one comprising the first half of the Sfr1 protein and that is capable of binding to Rad51, and a second consisting of the rest of Sfr1 bound to Swi5, which is responsible for activating Rad51. Here, Argunhan, Sakakura et al. used genetic and biochemical approaches to study how this first module, known as “Sfr1N”, interacts with Rad51 in a microbe known as fission yeast.
The experiments showed that both modules of Swi5-Sfr1 were important for Rad51 to drive homologous recombination. Swi5-Sfr1 complexes carrying mutations in the region of Sfr1N that binds to Rad51 were unable to activate Rad51 in a test tube. However, fission yeast cells containing the same mutations were able to repair their DNA without problems. This was due to the presence of another pair of proteins known as the Rad55-Rad57 complex that also bound to Swi5-Sfr1.
The findings of Argunhan, Sakakura et al. suggest that the Swi5-Sfr1 and Rad55-Rad57 complexes work together to activate Rad51. Many genetically inherited diseases and cancers have been linked to mutations in DNA repair proteins. The fundamental mechanisms of DNA repair are very similar from yeast to humans and other animals, therefore, understanding the details of DNA repair in yeast may ultimately benefit human health in the future.