DNA and RNA helicases are organized into six superfamilies of enzymes on the basis of sequence alignments, biochemical data, and available crystal structures. DNA helicases, members of which are found in each of the superfamilies, are an essential group of motor proteins that unwind DNA duplexes into their component single strands in a process that is coupled to the hydrolysis of nucleoside 5'-triphosphates. The purpose of this DNA unwinding is to provide nascent, single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) for the processes of DNA repair, replication, and recombination. Not surprisingly, DNA helicases share common biochemical properties that include the binding of single- and double-stranded DNA, nucleoside 5'-triphosphate binding and hydrolysis, and nucleoside 5'-triphosphate hydrolysis-coupled, polar unwinding of duplex DNA. These enzymes participate in every aspect of DNA metabolism due to the requirement for transient separation of small regions of the duplex genome into its component strands so that replication, recombination, and repair can occur. In Escherichia coli, there are currently twelve DNA helicases that perform a variety of tasks ranging from simple strand separation at the replication fork to more sophisticated processes in DNA repair and genetic recombination. In this chapter, the superfamily classification, role(s) in DNA metabolism, effects of mutations, biochemical analysis, oligomeric nature, and interacting partner proteins of each of the twelve DNA helicases are discussed.
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