Protein splicing is a post-translational process by which an intein catalyzes its own excision from flanking polypeptides, or exteins, concomitant with extein ligation. Many inteins have nested homing endonuclease domains that facilitate their propagation into intein-less alleles, whereas other inteins lack the homing endonuclease (HEN) and are called mini-inteins. The mini-intein that interrupts the DNA PolII of Pyrococcus horikoshii has a linker region in place of the HEN domain that is shorter than the linker in a closely related intein from Pyrococcus abyssi. The P. horikoshii PolII intein requires a higher temperature for catalytic activity and is more stable to digestion by the thermostable protease thermolysin, suggesting that it is more rigid than the P. abyssi intein. We solved a crystal structure of the intein precursor that revealed a domain-swapped dimer. Inteins found as domain swapped dimers have been shown to promote intein-mediated protein alternative splicing, but the solved P. horikoshii PolII intein structure has an active site unlikely to be catalytically competent.
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