The human Werner syndrome protein, WRN, is a member of the RecQ helicase family and contains 3'-->5' helicase and 3'-->5' exonuclease activities. Recently, we showed that the exonuclease activity of WRN is greatly stimulated by the human Ku heterodimer protein. We have now mapped this interaction physically and functionally. The Ku70 subunit specifically interacts with the N-terminus (amino acids 1-368) of WRN, while the Ku80 subunit interacts with its C-terminus (amino acids 940- 1432). Binding between Ku70 and the N-terminus of WRN (amino acids 1-368) is sufficient for stimulation of WRN exonuclease activity. A mutant Ku heterodimer of full-length Ku80 and truncated Ku70 (amino acids 430-542) interacts with C-WRN but not with N-WRN and cannot stimulate WRN exonuclease activity. This emphasizes the functional significance of the interaction between the N-terminus of WRN and Ku70. The interaction between Ku80 and the C-terminus of WRN may modulate some other, as yet unknown, function. The strong interaction between Ku and WRN suggests that these two proteins function together in one or more pathways of DNA metabolism.
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