The Escherichia coli wild-type single strand binding (SSB) protein is a stable tetramer that binds to single-stranded (ss) DNA in its role in DNA replication, recombination and repair. The ssb-1 mutation, a substitution of tyrosine for histidine-55 within the SSB-1 protein, destabilizes the tetramer with respect to monomers, resulting in a temperature-sensitive defect in a variety of DNA metabolic processes, including replication. Using quenching of the intrinsic SSB-1 tryptophan fluorescence, we have examined the equilibrium binding of the oligonucleotide, dT(pT)15, to the SSB-1 protein in order to determine whether a ssDNA binding site exists within individual SSB-1 monomers or whether the formation of the SSB tetramer is necessary for ssDNA binding. At high SSB-1 protein concentrations, such that the tetramer is stable, we find that four molecules of dT(pT)15 bind per tetramer in a manner similar to that observed for the wild-type SSB tetramer; i.e. negative co-operativity is observed for ssDNA binding to the SSB-1 protomers. As a consequence of this negative co-operativity, binding is biphasic, with two molecules of dT(pT)15 binding to the tetramer in each phase. However, the intrinsic binding constant, K16, for the SSB-1 protomer-dT(pT)15 interaction is a factor of 3 lower than for the wild-type protomer interaction and the negative co-operativity parameter, σ16, is larger in the case of the SSB-1 tetramer, indicating a lower degree of negative co-operativity. At lower SSB-1 concentrations, SSB-1 monomers bind dT(pT)15 without negative co-operativity; however, the intrinsic affinity of dT(pT)15 for the monomer is a factor of ~10 lower than for the protomer (50 mm-NaCl, pH 8.1, 25 °C). Therefore, an individual SSB-1 monomer does possess an independent ssDNA binding site; hence formation of the tetramer is not required for ssDNA binding, although tetramer formation does increase the binding affinity significantly. These data also show that the negative co-operativity among ssDNA binding sites within an SSB tetramer is an intrinsic property of the tetramer. On the basis of these studies, we discuss a modified explanation for the temperature-sensitivity of the ssb-1 phenotype.
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