DNA helicases are required for virtually every aspect of DNA metabolism, including replication, repair, recombination and transcription. A comprehensive description of these essential biochemical processes requires detailed understanding of helicase mechanisms. These enzymes are ubiquitous, having been identified in viruses, prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Disease states, such as xeroderma pigmentosum, Cockayne's syndrome, Bloom's syndrome and Werner's syndrome, have been linked to defects in specific genes coding for DNA helicases. Helicases have been placed into different subfamilies based on sequence comparison. The largest subgroups are termed superfamily 1 and superfamily 2. A proposed mechanism for helicases in these classes has been described in terms of an 'inchworm model'. The inchworm model includes conformational changes driven by ATP binding and hydrolysis that allow unidirectional translocation along DNA. A monomeric form of the enzyme is proposed to have two DNA-binding sites that enable sequential steps of DNA binding and release. Significant differences exist between helicases in important aspects of the models such as the oligomerization state of the enzyme with some helicases functioning as monomers, some as dimers and others as higher-order oligomers.
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