Most DNA in a cell is arranged in structures called chromosomes. From bacteria to humans, chromosomes have to be compacted and highly organized to allow the cells to maintain and use their genetic information. In all organisms, large ring-shaped protein complexes play a crucial role in managing chromosomes.
They transport and organize DNA thanks to reactions whose precise mechanism remains unknown. In bacteria, MukB and a type of kleisin called MukF are two examples of molecules involved in chromosome management.
Two MukBs join at one end to form a hinge; at the other end, each MukB protein has a neck and a head. The two heads are linked by the kleisin to form a large protein ring, which can open to capture DNA. The MukB heads can trigger a biochemical reaction that creates the energy essential to trap and release DNA during DNA transport.
Here, Zawadzka et al. study how the different components of the MukB-kleisin complex interact with each other to undergo the biochemical reactions that lead to DNA transport. The experiments show that the kleisin joins two MukB heads by attaching the base of one to the neck of the other, asymmetrically closing the ring. The separate interactions of different regions of the kleisin to the head and neck of MukB independently activate the two MukB heads, thereby controlling essential steps in the reactions with DNA. Two MukB-kleisin ring complexes are joined to each other because of a tight interaction between the two kleisin molecules. This leads Zawadzka et al. to suggest that DNA is sequentially grabbed and released from these two rings during DNA transport, similar to how a climbing rope is attached and released through carabiners.
Cells cannot survive or be healthy without their chromosomes being accurately managed. It is still unclear how molecules such as MukBs and kleinsins drive this process. A better picture of their structure and interactions is an essential first step to understand these mechanisms.