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Novel Structures of RAD51 Reveal Mechanisms in DNA Damage Repair and Genomic Stability



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Appleby, Robert 


The RAD51 protein contributes to the maintenance of genomic stability by promoting the repair of DNA double-strand breaks and the protection of DNA replication forks. RAD51 functions alongside the tumour suppressor protein BRCA2 to catalyse DNA strand-exchange reactions which form an integral part of Homology-Directed Repair. RAD51 has been the subject of decades of research which has helped to elucidate many mechanisms underpinning its function, however numerous key questions still remain.

In this thesis I present three-dimensional structures of RAD51 nucleoprotein filaments together with biochemical and biophysical data that reveal new insights into how RAD51 contributes to maintaining the stability of our genome. High-resolution structures of RAD51 filaments on single- (ss-) and double-stranded (ds-) DNA revealed the presence of a second metal cation at the ATP-binding site, which forms the basis for a mechanism of ATP-hydrolysis dependent filament disassembly, confirmed by the structure of a RAD51 filament in the presence of ADP. Here I also describe two structures of RAD51 bound to the C-terminus of BRCA2, which show how BRCA2 binds to and stabilises RAD51 filaments during DNA replication and repair. A low- resolution structure of a RAD51 synaptic filament is also presented here, which suggests that the mechanism of recombinase-catalysed strand exchange is conserved throughout the three domains of life. Furthermore, I demonstrated that RAD51 can bind to DNA damaged by base hydrolysis, based on the structure of RAD51 nucleoprotein filaments that reveal specific recognition of abasic sites. Finally, I show that RAD51 can bind RNA substrates, as established by RAD51 filament structures bound to ssRNA and a DNA : RNA hybrid.

Collectively these structures and supporting biochemical experiments highlight new mechanisms of RAD51 function in both DNA repair and DNA replication.





Pellegrini, Luca
Blundell, Thomas


BRCA2, CryoEM, Homologous Recombination, RAD51


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (2271086)