J Biol Chem. 2019 May 28. pii: jbc.RA119.008739
Eukaryotic DNA polymerase (Pol) X family members such as Pol μ and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) are important components for the nonhomologous DNA end-joining (NHEJ) pathway. TdT participates in a specialized version of NHEJ, V(D)J recombination. It has primarily non-templated polymerase activity, but can take instructions across strands from the downstream dsDNA, and both activities are highly dependent on a structural element called Loop1. However, it is unclear whether Pol μ follows the same mechanism because the structure of its Loop1 is disordered in available structures. Here, we used a chimeric TdT harboring Loop1 of Pol μ that recapitulated the functional properties of Pol μ in ligation experiments. We solved three crystal structures of this TdT chimera bound to several DNA substrates at 1.96-2.55 Å resolutions, including a full DNA-double strand break (DSB) synapsis. We then modeled the full Pol μ sequence in the context of one these complexes. The atomic structure of an NHEJ junction with a pol X construct that mimics Pol μ in a reconstituted system explained the distinctive properties of Pol μ compared with TdT. The structure suggested a mechanism of base selection relying on Loop1 and taking instructions via the in trans templating base independently of the primer strand. We conclude that our atomic-level structural observations represent a paradigm shift for the mechanism of base selection in the polX family of DNA polymerases.