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Helicases are a class of enzymes vital to all living organisms. They are motor proteins that move directionally along a nucleic acid phosphodiester backbone, separating two annealed nucleic acid strands (i.e. DNA, RNA, or RNA-DNA hybrid) using energy derived from nucleotide hydrolysis.
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Many cellular processes (DNA replication, transcription, translation, recombination, DNA repair, ribosome biogenesis) involve the separation of nucleic acid strands. Helicases are often utilized to separate strands of a DNA double helix or a self-annealed RNA molecule using the energy from ATP or GTP hydrolysis. They move incrementally along one nucleic acid strand of the duplex with a directionality and processivity specific to each particular enzyme. There are many helicases (14 confirmed in E. coli, 24 in human cells) resulting from the great variety of processes in which strand separation must be catalyzed.
Helicases adopt different structures and oligomerization states. Whereas DnaB-like helicases unwind DNA as donut shaped hexamers, other enzymes have been shown to be active as monomers or dimers. Recent studies showed that helicases do not merely wait passively for the fork to widen, but play an active role in forcing the fork to open, thus it is an active motor unwinding its substrate. Helicases process much faster in vivo than in vitro due to the presence of accessory proteins that may aid in the destabilization of the fork junction.
The common function of helicases accounts for the fact that they display a certain degree of amino acid sequence homology; they all possess common sequence motifs located in the interior of their primary sequence. These are thought to be specifically involved in ATP binding, ATP hydrolysis and translocation on the nucleic acid substrate. The variable portion of the amino acid sequence is related to the specific features of each helicase.
Based on the presence of defined helicase motifs, it is possible to attribute a putative helicase activity to a given protein, though the presence of a motif does not confirm the protein as a helicase. Conserved motifs do, however, support an evolutionary homology among enzymes. Based on the presence and the form of helicase motifs, helicases have been separated in 4 superfamilies and 2 smaller families. Some members of these families are indicated, with the organism from which they are extracted, and their function.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Helicase". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.