PhD, University of Texas at Austin, Biochemistry (2014)
Diplom, Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (2009)
Daniel Herschlag, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
RNA-guided nucleases (RGNs) provide sequence-specific gene regulation through base-pairing interactions between a small RNA guide and target RNA or DNA. RGN systems, which include CRISPR-Cas9 and RNA interference (RNAi), hold tremendous promise as programmable tools for engineering and therapeutic purposes. However, pervasive targeting of sequences that closely resemble the intended target has remained a major challenge, limiting the reliability and interpretation of RGN activity and the range of possible applications. Efforts to reduce off-target activity and enhance RGN specificity have led to a collection of empirically derived rules, which often paradoxically include decreased binding affinity of the RNA-guided nuclease to its target. We consider the kinetics of these reactions and show that basic kinetic properties can explain the specificities observed in the literature and the changes in these specificities in engineered systems. The kinetic models described provide a foundation for understanding RGN targeting and a necessary conceptual framework for their rational engineering.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cels.2016.12.010
View details for PubMedID 28125791
Both scientists and the public would benefit from improved communication of basic scientific research and from integrating scientists into education outreach, but opportunities to support these efforts are limited. We have developed two low-cost programs-"Present Your PhD Thesis to a 12-Year-Old" and "Shadow a Scientist"-that combine training in science communication with outreach to area middle schools. We assessed the outcomes of these programs and found a 2-fold benefit: scientists improve their communication skills by explaining basic science research to a general audience, and students' enthusiasm for science and their scientific knowledge are increased. Here we present details about both programs, along with our assessment of them, and discuss the feasibility of exporting these programs to other universities.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002368
View details for PubMedID 26844991
Holliday junctions are critical intermediates in DNA recombination, repair, and restart of blocked replication. Hexapeptides have been identified that bind to junctions and inhibit various junction-processing enzymes, and these peptides confer anti-microbial and anti-tumor properties. Earlier studies suggested that inhibition results from stabilization of peptide-bound Holliday junctions in the square planar conformation. Here, we use single molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET) and two model junctions, which are AT- or GC-rich at the branch points, to show that binding of the peptide KWWCRW induces a dynamic ensemble of junction conformations that differs from both the square planar and stacked X conformations. The specific features of the conformational distributions differ for the two peptide-bound junctions, but both junctions display greatly decreased Mg(2+) dependence and increased conformational fluctuations. The smFRET results, complemented by gel mobility shift and small angle x-ray scattering analyses, reveal structural effects of peptides and highlight the sensitivity of smFRET for analyzing complex mixtures of DNA structures. The peptide-induced conformational dynamics suggest multiple stacking arrangements of aromatic amino acids with the nucleobases at the junction core. This conformational heterogeneity may inhibit DNA processing by increasing the population of inactive junction conformations, thereby preventing the binding of processing enzymes and/or resulting in their premature dissociation.
View details for DOI 10.1074/jbc.M115.663930
View details for Web of Science ID 000361171500037
View details for PubMedID 26209636
DEAD-box proteins are nonprocessive RNA helicases and can function as RNA chaperones, but the mechanisms of their chaperone activity remain incompletely understood. The Neurospora crassa DEAD-box protein CYT-19 is a mitochondrial RNA chaperone that promotes group I intron splicing and has been shown to resolve misfolded group I intron structures, allowing them to refold. Building on previous results, here we use a series of tertiary contact mutants of the Tetrahymena group I intron ribozyme to demonstrate that the efficiency of CYT-19-mediated unfolding of the ribozyme is tightly linked to global RNA tertiary stability. Efficient unfolding of destabilized ribozyme variants is accompanied by increased ATPase activity of CYT-19, suggesting that destabilized ribozymes provide more productive interaction opportunities. The strongest ATPase stimulation occurs with a ribozyme that lacks all five tertiary contacts and does not form a compact structure, and small-angle X-ray scattering indicates that ATPase activity tracks with ribozyme compactness. Further, deletion of three helices that are prominently exposed in the folded structure decreases the ATPase stimulation by the folded ribozyme. Together, these results lead to a model in which CYT-19, and likely related DEAD-box proteins, rearranges complex RNA structures by preferentially interacting with and unwinding exposed RNA secondary structure. Importantly, this mechanism could bias DEAD-box proteins to act on misfolded RNAs and ribonucleoproteins, which are likely to be less compact and more dynamic than their native counterparts.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1404307111
View details for Web of Science ID 000339310700004
View details for PubMedID 25002474
Superfamily 2 helicase proteins are ubiquitous in RNA biology and have an extraordinarily broad set of functional roles. Central among these roles are the promotion of rearrangements of structured RNAs and the remodeling of ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNPs), allowing formation of native RNA structure or progression through a functional cycle of structures. Although all superfamily 2 helicases share a conserved helicase core, they are divided evolutionarily into several families, and it is principally proteins from three families, the DEAD-box, DEAH/RHA, and Ski2-like families, that function to manipulate structured RNAs and RNPs. Strikingly, there are emerging differences in the mechanisms of these proteins, both between families and within the largest family (DEAD-box), and these differences appear to be tuned to their RNA or RNP substrates and their specific roles. This review outlines basic mechanistic features of the three families and surveys individual proteins and the current understanding of their biological substrates and mechanisms.
View details for DOI 10.1146/annurev-biochem-060713-035546
View details for Web of Science ID 000348432500027
View details for PubMedID 24635478
RNAs are prone to misfolding, but how misfolded structures are formed and resolved remains incompletely understood. The Tetrahymena group I intron ribozyme folds in vitro to a long-lived misfolded conformation (M) that includes extensive native structure but is proposed to differ in topology from the native state (N). A leading model predicts that exchange of the topologies requires unwinding of the long-range, core helix P3, despite the presence of P3 in both conformations. To test this model, we constructed 16 mutations to strengthen or weaken P3. Catalytic activity and in-line probing showed that nearly all of the mutants form the M state before folding to N. The P3-weakening mutations accelerated refolding from M (3- to 30-fold) and the P3-strengthening mutations slowed refolding (6- to 1400-fold), suggesting that P3 indeed unwinds transiently. Upon depletion of Mg(2+), the mutations had analogous effects on unfolding from N to intermediates that subsequently fold to M. The magnitudes for the P3-weakening mutations were larger than in refolding from M, and small-angle X-ray scattering showed that the ribozyme expands rapidly to intermediates from which P3 is disrupted subsequently. These results are consistent with previous results indicating unfolding of native peripheral structure during refolding from M, which probably permits rearrangement of the core. Together, our results demonstrate that exchange of the native and misfolded conformations requires loss of a core helix in addition to peripheral structure. Further, the results strongly suggest that misfolding arises from a topological error within the ribozyme core, and a specific topology is proposed.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jmb.2013.05.008
View details for Web of Science ID 000322296400005
View details for PubMedID 23702292
DEAD-box proteins are superfamily 2 helicases that function in all aspects of RNA metabolism. They employ ATP binding and hydrolysis to generate tight, yet regulated RNA binding, which is used to unwind short RNA helices non-processively and promote structural transitions of RNA and RNA-protein substrates. In the last few years, substantial progress has been made toward a detailed, quantitative understanding of the structural and biochemical properties of DEAD-box proteins. Concurrently, progress has been made toward a physical understanding of the RNA rearrangements and folding steps that are accelerated by DEAD-box proteins in model systems. Here, we review the recent progress on both of these fronts, focusing on the mitochondrial DEAD-box proteins Mss116 and CYT-19 and their mechanisms in promoting the splicing of group I and group II introns.
View details for DOI 10.4161/rna.22210
View details for Web of Science ID 000314452200006
View details for PubMedID 22995827
The mitochondrial DEAD-box proteins Mss116p of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and CYT-19 of Neurospora crassa are ATP-dependent helicases that function as general RNA chaperones. The helicase core of each protein precedes a C-terminal extension and a basic tail, whose structural role is unclear. Here we used small-angle X-ray scattering to obtain solution structures of the full-length proteins and a series of deletion mutants. We find that the two core domains have a preferred relative orientation in the open state without substrates, and we visualize the transition to a compact closed state upon binding RNA and adenosine nucleotide. An analysis of complexes with large chimeric oligonucleotides shows that the basic tails of both proteins are attached flexibly, enabling them to bind rigid duplex DNA segments extending from the core in different directions. Our results indicate that the basic tails of DEAD-box proteins contribute to RNA-chaperone activity by binding nonspecifically to large RNA substrates and flexibly tethering the core for the unwinding of neighboring duplexes.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1109566108
View details for Web of Science ID 000293129900019
View details for PubMedID 21746911
DEAD-box proteins are ubiquitous in RNA-mediated processes and function by coupling cycles of ATP binding and hydrolysis to changes in affinity for single-stranded RNA. Many DEAD-box proteins use this basic mechanism as the foundation for a version of RNA helicase activity, efficiently separating the strands of short RNA duplexes in a process that involves little or no translocation. This activity, coupled with mechanisms to direct different DEAD-box proteins to their physiological substrates, allows them to promote RNA folding steps and rearrangements and to accelerate remodeling of RNA?protein complexes. This review will describe the properties of DEAD-box proteins as RNA helicases and the current understanding of how the energy from ATPase activity is used to drive the separation of RNA duplex strands. It will then describe how the basic biochemical properties allow some DEAD-box proteins to function as chaperones by promoting RNA folding reactions, with a focus on the self-splicing group I and group II intron RNAs.
View details for DOI 10.1002/wrna.50
View details for Web of Science ID 000301861900010
View details for PubMedID 21297876