Molecular architecture of the mouse DNA polymerase alpha-primase complex

Mol Cell Biol. 1999 Nov;19(11):7886-96. doi: 10.1128/MCB.19.11.7886.


The DNA polymerase alpha-primase complex is the only enzyme that provides RNA-DNA primers for chromosomal DNA replication in eukaryotes. Mouse DNA polymerase alpha has been shown to consist of four subunits, p180, p68, p54, and p46. To characterize the domain structures and subunit requirements for the assembly of the complex, we constructed eukaryotic polycistronic cDNA expression plasmids expressing pairwise the four subunits of DNA polymerase alpha. In addition, the constructs contained an internal ribosome entry site derived from poliovirus. The constructs were transfected in different combinations with vectors expressing single subunits to allow the simultaneous expression of three or four of the subunits in cultured mammalian cells. We demonstrate that the carboxyl-terminal region of p180 (residues 1235 to 1465) is essential for its interaction with both p68 and p54-p46 by immunohistochemical analysis and coprecipitation studies with antibodies. Mutations in the putative zinc fingers present in the carboxyl terminus of p180 abolished the interaction with p68 completely, although the mutants were still capable of interacting with p54-p46. Furthermore, the amino-terminal region (residues 1 to 329) and the carboxyl-terminal region (residues 1280 to 1465) were revealed to be dispensable for DNA polymerase activity. Thus, we can divide the p180 subunit into three domains. The first is the amino-terminal domain (residues 1 to 329), which is dispensable for both polymerase activity and subunit assembly. The second is the minimal core domain (residues 330 to 1279), required for polymerase activity. The third is the carboxyl-terminal domain (residues 1280 to 1465), which is dispensable for polymerase activity but required for the interaction with the other three subunits. Taken together, these results allow us to propose the first structural model for the DNA polymerase alpha-primase complex in terms of subunit assembly, domain structure, and stepwise formation at the cellular level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • COS Cells
  • DNA Polymerase I / chemistry
  • DNA Polymerase I / genetics
  • DNA Polymerase I / metabolism*
  • DNA Primase / chemistry
  • DNA Primase / genetics
  • DNA Primase / metabolism*
  • DNA Replication
  • Eukaryotic Cells
  • Mice
  • Models, Genetic
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Biology / methods
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Zinc Fingers


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • DNA Primase
  • DNA polymerase alpha-primase
  • DNA Polymerase I