The GIY-YIG nuclease domain is present in all kingdoms of life and has diverse functions. It is found in the eukaryotic flap endonuclease and Holliday junction resolvase Slx1–Slx4, the prokaryotic nucleotide excision repair proteins UvrC and Cho, and in proteins of ‘selfish’ genetic elements. Here we present the structures of the ternary pre- and post-cleavage complexes of the type II GIY-YIG restriction endonuclease Hpy188I with DNA and a surrogate or catalytic metal ion, respectively. Our structures suggest that GIY-YIG nucleases catalyze DNA hydrolysis by a single substitution reaction. They are consistent with a previous proposal that a tyrosine residue (which we expect to occur in its phenolate form) acts as a general base for the attacking water molecule. In contrast to the earlier proposal, our data identify the general base with the GIY and not the YIG tyrosine. A conserved glutamate residue (Glu149 provided in trans in Hpy188I) anchors a single metal cation in the active site. This metal ion contacts the phosphate proS oxygen atom and the leaving group 3′-oxygen atom, presumably to facilitate its departure. Taken together, our data reveal striking analogy in the absence of homology between GIY-YIG and ββα-Me nucleases
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