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The prokaryotic Type ISP restriction-modification enzymes are single-chain proteins comprising an Mrr-family nuclease, a superfamily 2 helicase-like ATPase, a coupler domain, a methyltransferase, and a DNA-recognition domain. Upon recognising an unmodified DNA target site, the helicase-like domain hydrolyzes ATP to cause site release (remodeling activity) and to then drive downstream translocation consuming 1-2 ATP per base pair (motor activity). On an invading foreign DNA, double-strand breaks are introduced at random wherever two translocating enzymes form a so-called collision complex following long-range communication between a pair of target sites in inverted (head-to-head) repeat. Paradoxically, structural models for collision suggest that the nuclease domains are too far apart (>30 bp) to dimerise and produce a double-strand DNA break using just two strand-cleavage events. Here, we examined the organisation of different collision complexes and how these lead to nuclease activation. We mapped DNA cleavage when a translocating enzyme collides with a static enzyme bound to its site. By following communication between sites in both head-to-head and head-to-tail orientations, we could show that motor activity leads to activation of the nuclease domains via distant interactions of the helicase or MTase-TRD. Direct nuclease dimerization is not required. To help explain the observed cleavage patterns, we also used exonuclease footprinting to demonstrate that individual Type ISP domains can swing off the DNA. This study lends further support to a model where DNA breaks are generated by multiple random nicks due to mobility of a collision complex with an overall DNA-binding footprint of ∼30 bp.
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