CRISPR-Cas systems comprise an adaptive immune system in bacteria and archaea against foreign mobile genetic elements, such as plasmids and phages, which has constituted a revolution in life sciences

Type III CRISPR-Cas effector systems detect foreign RNA triggering DNA and RNA cleavage and synthesizing cyclic oligoadenylate molecules (cA) in their Cas10 subunit. cAs act as a second messenger activating auxiliary nucleases, leading to an indiscriminate RNA degradation that can end in cell dormancy or death. Standalone ring nucleases are CRISPR ancillary proteins which downregulate the strong immune response of Type III systems by degrading cA. Two genes with this function (Sis0811 and Sis0455) have been found within the Sulfolobus islandicus (Sis) genome. They code for a long polypeptide composed by a CARF domain fused to an HTH domain (Sis0811 described in Molina et al., Nucleic Acids Research, 2021) and a short polypeptide constituted by a CARF domain with a 40 residue C-terminal insertion (Sis0455). Here, we determine the structure of the apo and substrate bound states of the Sis0455 enzyme, revealing an insertion at the C-terminal region of the CARF domain, which plays a key role closing the catalytic site upon substrate binding. Our analysis reveals the key residues of Sis0455 during cleavage and the coupling of the active site closing with their positioning to proceed with cA4 phosphodiester hydrolysis. A time course comparison of cA4 cleavage between the short, Sis0455, and long ring nucleases, Sis0811, shows the slower cleavage kinetics of the former, suggesting that the combination of these two types of enzymes with the same function in a genome could be an evolutionary strategy to regulate the levels of the second messenger in different infection scenarios