DNA glycosylases carry out the first step of base excision repair by removing damaged bases from DNA. The N3-methyladenine (3MeA) DNA glycosylases specialize in alkylation repair and are either constitutively expressed or induced by exposure to alkylating agents. To study the functional and evolutionary significance of constitutive versus inducible expression, we expressed two closely related yeast 3MeA DNA glycosylases - inducible Saccharomyces cerevisiae MAG and constitutive S. pombe Mag1 - in a glycosylase-deficient Escherichia coli strain. In both cases, constitutive expression conferred resistance to alkylating agent exposure. However, in the absence of exogenous alkylation, high levels of expression of both glycosylases were deleterious. We attribute this toxicity to excessive glycosylase activity, since suppressing spMag1 expression correlated with improved growth in liquid culture, and spMag1 mutants exhibiting decreased glycosylase activity showed improved growth and viability. Selection of a random spMag1 mutant library for increased survival in the presence of exogenous alkylation resulted in the selection of hypomorphic mutants, providing evidence for the presence of a genetic barrier to the evolution of enhanced glycosylase activity when constitutively expressed. We also show that low levels of 3MeA glycosylase expression improve fitness in our glycosylase-deficient host, implying that 3MeA glycosylase activity is likely necessary for repair of endogenous lesions. These findings suggest that 3MeA glycosylase activity is evolutionarily conserved for repair of endogenously produced alkyl lesions, and that inducible expression represents a common strategy to rectify deleterious effects of excessive 3MeA activity in the absence of exogenous alkylation challenge.
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