Tyrosine recombinases participate in diverse biological processes by catalyzing recombination between specific DNA sites. Although a conserved protein fold has been described for the catalytic (CAT) domains of five recombinases, structural relationships between their core-binding (CB) domains remain unclear. Despite differences in the specificity and affinity of core-type DNA recognition, a conserved binding mechanism is suggested by the shared two-domain motif in crystal structure models of the recombinases Cre, XerD and Flp. We have found additional evidence for conservation of the CB domain fold. Comparison of XerD and Cre crystal structures showed that their CB domains are closely related; the three central α-helices of these domains are superposable to within 1.44 Å. A structure-based multiple sequence alignment containing 25 diverse CB domain sequences provided evidence for widespread conservation of both structural and functional elements in this fold. Based upon the Cre and XerD crystal structures, we employed homology modeling to construct a three-dimensional structure for the λ integrase CB domain. The model provides a conceptual framework within which many previously identified, functionally important amino acid residues were investigated. In addition, the model predicts new residues that may participate in core-type DNA binding or dimerization, thereby providing hypotheses for future genetic and biochemical experiments.
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