The beta subunit of the Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III holoenzyme interacts functionally with the catalytic core in the absence of other subunits.
We have previously demonstrated that the addition of a stoichiometric excess of the beta subunit of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III holoenzyme to DNA polymerase III or holoenzyme itself can lead to an ATP-independent increase in the processivity of these enzyme forms (Crute, J. J., LaDuca, R. J., Johanson, K. O., McHenry, C. S., and Bambara, R. A. (1983) J. Biol. Chem. 258, 11344-11349). Here, we show that the beta subunit can interact directly with the catalytic core of the holoenzyme, DNA polymerase III, generating a new form of the enzyme with enhanced catalytic and processive capabilities. The addition of saturating levels of the beta subunit to the core DNA polymerase III enzyme results in as much as a 7-fold stimulation of synthetic activity. Two populations of DNA products were generated by the DNA polymerase III X beta enzyme complex. Short products resulting from the addition of 5-10 nucleotides/primer fragment were generated by DNA polymerase III in the presence and absence of added beta subunit. A second population of much longer products was generated only in beta-supplemented DNA polymerase III reactions. The DNA polymerase III-beta reaction was inhibited by single-stranded DNA binding protein and was unaffected by ATP, distinguishing it from the holoenzyme-catalyzed reaction. Complex formation of the DNA polymerase III core enzyme with beta increased the residence time of the enzyme on synthetic DNA templates. Our results demonstrate that the beta stimulation of DNA polymerase III can be attributed to a more efficient and highly processive elongation capability of the DNA polymerase III X beta complex. They also prove that at least part of beta's normal contribution to the DNA polymerase III holoenzyme reaction takes place through interaction with DNA polymerase III core enzyme components to produce the essential complex necessary for efficient elongation in vivo.