Hyperthermophilic archaea exhibit a unique pattern of DNA topoisomerase activities. They have a peculiar enzyme, reverse gyrase, which introduces positive superturns into DNA at the expense of ATP. This enzyme has been found in all hyperthermophiles tested so far (including Bacteria) but never in mesophiles. Reverse gyrases are formed by the association of a helicase-like domain and a 5'-type I DNA topoisomerase. These two domains might be located on the same polypeptide. However, in the methanogenic archaeon Methanopyrus kandleri, the topoisomerase domain is divided between two subunits, Besides reverse gyrase, Archaea contain other type I DNA topoisomerases; in particular, M. kandleri harbors the only known procaryotic 3'-type I DNA topoisomerase (Topo V). Hyperthermophilic archaea also exhibit specific type II DNA topoisomerases (Topo II), i.e. whereas mesophilic Bacteria have a Topo II that produces negative supercoiling (DNA gyrase), the Topo II from Sulfolobus and Pyrococcus lack gyrase activity and are the smallest enzymes of this type known so far. This peculiar pattern of DNA topoisomerases in hyperthermophilic archaea is paralleled by a unique DNA topology, i.e. whereas DNA isolated from Bacteria and Eucarya is negatively supercoiled, plasmidic DNA from hyperthermophilic archaea are from relaxed to positively supercoiled. The possible evolutionary implications of these findings are discussed in this review. We speculate that gyrase activity in mesophiles and reverse gyrase activity in hyperthermophiles might have originated in the course of procaryote evolution to balance the effect of temperature changes on DNA structure.
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