Homologous recombination (HR) mediates the exchange of genetic information between sister or homologous chromatids. During HR, members of the RecA/Rad51 family of recombinases must somehow search through vast quantities of DNA sequence to align and pair single-strand DNA (ssDNA) with a homologous double-strand DNA (dsDNA) template. Here, we use single-molecule imaging to visualize Rad51 as it aligns and pairs homologous DNA sequences in real time. We show that Rad51 uses a length-based recognition mechanism while interrogating dsDNA, enabling robust kinetic selection of 8-nucleotide (nt) tracts of microhomology, which kinetically confines the search to sites with a high probability of being a homologous target. Successful pairing with a ninth nucleotide coincides with an additional reduction in binding free energy, and subsequent strand exchange occurs in precise 3-nt steps, reflecting the base triplet organization of the presynaptic complex. These findings provide crucial new insights into the physical and evolutionary underpinnings of DNA recombination.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)