Site-directed mutants of RTP of Bacillus subtilis and the mechanism of replication fork arrest

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Journal Article
Journal of Molecular Biology, 1999, 286 (5), pp. 1325 - 1335
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DNA replication fork arrest during the termination phase of chromosome replication in Bacillus subtilis is brought about by the replication terminator protein (RTP) bound to specific DNA terminator sequences (Ter sites) distributed throughout the terminus region. An attractive suggestion by others was that crucial to the functioning of the RTP-Ter complex is a specific interaction between RTP positioned on the DNA and the helicase associated with the approaching replication fork. In support of this was the behaviour of two site-directed mutants of RTP. They appeared to bind Ter DNA normally but were ineffective in fork arrest as ascertained by in vitro Escherichia coli DnaB helicase and replication assays. We describe here a system for assessing the fork-arrest behaviour of RTP mutants in a bona fide in vivo assay in B. subtilis. One of the previously studied mutants, RTP.Y33N, was non-functional in fork arrest in vivo, as predicted. But through extensive analyses, this RTP mutant was shown to be severely defective in binding to Ter DNA, contrary to expectation. Taken in conjunction with recent findings on the other mutant (RTP.E30K), it is concluded that there is as yet no substantive evidence from the behaviour of RTP mutants to support the RTP-helicase interaction model for fork arrest. In an extension of the present work on RTP.Y33N, we determined the dissociation rates of complexes formed by wild-type (wt) RTP and another RTP mutant with various terminator sequences. The functional wtRTP-TerI complex was quite stable (half-life of 182 minutes), reminiscent of the great stability of the E. coli Tus-Ter complex. More significant were the exceptional stabilities of complexes comprising wtRTP and an RTP double-mutant (E39K.R42Q) bound to some particular terminator sequences. From the measurement of in vivo fork-arrest activities of the various complexes, it is concluded that the stability (half-life) of the whole RTP-Ter complex is not the overriding determinant of arrest, and that the RTP-Ter complex must be actively disrupted, or RTP removed, by the action of the approaching replication fork.
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