The human mitochondrial RNA polymerase (h-mtRNAP) serves as both the transcriptase for expression and the primase for replication of mitochondrial DNA. As such, the enzyme is of fundamental importance to cellular energy metabolism, and defects in its function may be related to human disease states. Here we describe in vitro analysis of the h-mtRNAP kinetic mechanism for single, correct nucleotide incorporation. This was made possible by the development of efficient methods for expression and purification of h-mtRNAP using a bacterial system and by utilization of assays that rely on simple, synthetic RNA/DNA scaffolds without the need for mitochondrial transcription accessory proteins. We find that h-mtRNAP accomplishes single-nucleotide incorporation by using the same core steps, including conformational change steps before and after chemistry, that are prototypical for most types of nucleic acid polymerases. The polymerase binds to scaffolds via a two-step mechanism consisting of a fast initial-encounter step followed by a much slower isomerization that leads to catalytic competence. A substantial solvent deuterium kinetic isotope effect was observed for the forward reaction, but none was detectable for the reverse reaction, suggesting that chemistry is at least partially rate-limiting in the forward direction but not in the reverse. h-mtRNAP appears to exercise much more stringent surveillance over base than over sugar in determining the correctness of a nucleotide. The utility of developing the robust in vitro assays described here and of establishing a baseline of kinetic performance for the wild-type enzyme is that biological questions concerning h-mtRNAP may now begin to be addressed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes