PARP-like zinc fingers (zf-PARPs) are protein domains apt to the recognition of multiple DNA secondary structures. They were initially described as the DNA-binding, nick-sensor domains of poly(ADP-ribose)polymerases (PARPs). It now appears that zf-PARPs are evolutionary conserved in the eukaryotic lineage and associated with various enzymes implicated in nucleic acid transactions. In the present study, we discuss the functional and structural data of zf-PARPSs in the light of a comparative analysis of the protein family. Sequence and structural analyses allow the definition of the conserved features of the zf-PARP domain and the identification of five distinct phylogenetic groups. Differences among the groups accumulate on the putative DNA binding surface of the PARP zinc-finger fold. These observations suggest that different zf-PARP types have distinctive recognition properties for DNA secondary structures. A comparison of various functional studies confirms that the different finger types can accomplish a selective recognition of DNA structures.
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