Localization of the active site of the alpha subunit of the Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III holoenzyme.
Using a deletion approach on the alpha subunit of DNA polymerase III from Escherichia coli, we show that there is an N-proximal polymerase domain which is distinct from a more C-proximal tau and beta binding domain. Although deletion of 60 residues from the alpha N terminus abolishes polymerase activity, deletions of 48, 169, and 342 amino acids from the C terminus progressively impair its catalytic efficiency but preserve an active site. Deletion of 342 C-terminal residues reduces k(cat) 46-fold, increases the Km for gapped DNA 5.5-fold, and increases the Km for deoxynucleoside triphosphates (dNTPs) twofold. The 818-residue protein with polymerase activity displays typical Michaelis-Menten behavior, catalyzing a polymerase reaction that is saturable with substrate and linear with time. With the aid of newly acquired sequences of the polymerase III alpha subunit from a variety of organisms, candidates for two key aspartate residues in the active site are identified at amino acids 401 and 403 of the E. coli sequence by inspection of conserved acidic amino acids. The motif Pro-Asp-X-Asp, where X is a hydrophobic amino acid, is shown to be conserved among all known DnaE proteins, including those from Bacillaceae, cyanobacteria, Mycoplasma, and mycobacteria. The E. coli DnaE deletion protein with only the N-terminal 366 amino acids does not have polymerase activity, consistent with the proposed position of the active-site residues.