DNA/RNA molecules adopting the left-handed conformation (Z-form) have been attributed with immunogenic properties. However, their biological role and importance have been a topic of debate for many years. The discovery of Z-DNA/RNA binding domains (Zα domains) in varied proteins that are involved in the innate immune response, such as the interferon inducible form of the RNA editing enzyme ADAR1 (p150), Z-DNA binding protein 1 (ZBP1), the fish kinase PKZ and the poxvirus inhibitor of interferon response E3L, indicates important roles of Z-DNA/RNA in immunity and self/non-self-discrimination. Such Zα domain-containing proteins recognize left-handed Z-DNA/RNA in a conformation-specific manner. Recent studies have implicated these domains in virus recognition. Given these important emerging roles for the Zα domains, it is pivotal to understand the mechanism of recognition of the Z-DNA/Z-RNA by these domains. To this end, we assessed the binding thermodynamics of Zα domain from ORF112 and ADAR1 on T(CG)3 and T(CG)6 oligonucleotides which have high propensity to adopt the Z-conformation. Our study highlights important differences in the mode of oligonucleotide binding by the two Zα domains originating from different proteins. Site-directed mutagenesis was employed together with isothermal titration calorimetry to tease apart finer details of the binding thermodynamics. Our work advances the understanding on binding thermodynamics of Zα domains to their cognate nucleic acid substrates and paves the ground for future efforts to gain a complete appreciation of this process.

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