We have developed simple and sensitive assays that distinguish the main classes of apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) endonucleases: Class I enzymes that cleave on the 3' side of AP sites by beta-elimination, and Class II enzymes that cleave by hydrolysis on the 5' side. The distinction of the two types depends on the use of a synthetic DNA polymer that contains AP sites with 5'-[32P]phosphate residues. Using this approach, we now show directly that Escherichia coli endonuclease IV and human AP endonuclease are Class II enzymes, as inferred previously on the basis of indirect assays. The assay method does not exhibit significant interference by nonspecific nucleases or primary amines, which allows the ready determination of different AP endonuclease activities in crude cell extracts. In this way, we show that virtually all of the Class II AP endonuclease activity in E. coli can be accounted for by two enzymes: exonuclease III and endonuclease IV. In the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the Class II AP endonuclease activity is totally dependent on a single enzyme, the Apn1 protein, but there are probably multiple ClassI enzymes. The versatility and ease of our approach should be useful for characterizing this important class of DNA repair enzymes in diverse systems.
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