Branched unwinding mechanism of the Pif1 family of DNA helicases

Saurabh P. Singh, Andrea Soranno, Melanie A. Sparks, Roberto Galletto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Members of the Pif1 family of helicases function in multiple pathways that involve DNA synthesis: DNA replication across G-quadruplexes; break-induced replication; and processing of long flaps during Okazaki fragment maturation. Furthermore, Pif1 increases strand-displacement DNA synthesis by DNA polymerase δ and allows DNA replication across arrays of proteins tightly bound to DNA. This is a surprising feat since DNA rewinding or annealing activities limit the amount of single-stranded DNA product that Pif1 can generate, leading to an apparently poorly processive helicase. In this work, using single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer approaches, we show that 2 members of the Pif1 family of helicases, Pif1 from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Pfh1 from Schizosaccharomyces pombe, unwind double-stranded DNA by a branched mechanism with 2 modes of activity. In the dominant mode, only short stretches of DNA can be processively and repetitively opened, with reclosure of the DNA occurring by mechanisms other than strand-switching. In the other less frequent mode, longer stretches of DNA are unwound via a path that is separate from the one leading to repetitive unwinding. Analysis of the kinetic partitioning between the 2 different modes suggests that the branching point in the mechanism is established by conformational selection, controlled by the interaction of the helicase with the 3′ nontranslocating strand. The data suggest that the dominant and repetitive mode of DNA opening of the helicase can be used to allow efficient DNA replication, with DNA synthesis on the nontranslocating strand rectifying the DNA unwinding activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24533-24541
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 3 2019


  • DNA replication
  • DNA unwinding
  • Helicase
  • Single molecule


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