One- and three-dimensional pathways for proteins to reach specific DNA sites

Neil P. Stanford, Mark D. Szczelkun, John F. Marko, Stephen E. Halford*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

138 Scopus citations


Proteins that interact with specific DNA sites bind to DNA at random and then translocate to the target site. This may occur by one-dimensional diffusion along the DNA, or through three-dimensional space via multiple dissociation/re-associations. To distinguish these routes, reactions of the EcoRV endonuclease were studied on substrates with two EcoRV sites separated by varied distances. The fraction of encounters between the DNA and the protein that resulted in the processive cleavage of both sites decreased as the length of intervening DNA was increased, but not in the manner demanded for one-dimensional diffusion. The variation in processivity with inter-site spacing shows instead that protein moves from one site to another through three-dimensional space, by successive dissociation/re-associations, though each re-association to a new site is followed by a search of the DNA immediately adjacent to that site. Although DNA-binding proteins are usually thought to find their target sites by one-dimensional pathways, three-dimensional routes may be more common than previously anticipated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6546-6557
Number of pages12
JournalEMBO Journal
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2000


  • DNA-protein interaction
  • EcoRV
  • Processivity
  • Recognition site
  • Restriction-modification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)

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