Bacteriophage lambda terminase: alterations of the high-affinity ATPase affect viral DNA packaging

J Mol Biol. 2005 Mar 18;347(1):71-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2004.12.041. Epub 2005 Jan 1.


DNA packaging by large DNA viruses such as the tailed bacteriophages and the herpesviruses involves DNA translocation into a preformed protein shell, called the prohead. Translocation is driven by an ATP hydrolysis-powered DNA packaging motor. The bacteriophages encode a heterodimeric viral DNA packaging protein, called terminase. The terminases have an ATPase center located in the N terminus of the large subunit implicated in DNA translocation. In previous work with phage lambda, lethal mutations that changed ATP-reactive residues 46 and 84 of gpA, the large terminase subunit, were studied. These mutant enzymes retained the terminase endonuclease and helicase activities, but had severe defects in virion assembly, and lacked the terminase high-affinity ATPase activity. Surprisingly, in the work described here, we found that enzymes with the conservative gpA changes Y46F and Y46A had only mild packaging defects. These mild defects contrast with their profound virion assembly defects. Thus, these mutant enzymes have, in addition to the mild DNA packaging defects, a severe post-DNA packaging defect. In contrast, the gpA K84A enzyme had similar virion assembly and DNA packaging defects. The DNA packaging energy budget, i.e. DNA packaged/ATP hydrolyzed, was unchanged for the mutant enzymes, indicating that DNA translocation is tightly coupled to ATP hydrolysis. A model is proposed in which gpA residues 46 and 84 are important for terminase's high-affinity ATPase activity. Assembly of the translocation complex remodels this ATPase so that residues 46 and 84 are not crucial for the activated translocation ATPase. Changing gpA residues 46 and 84 primarily affects assembly, rather than the activity, of the translocation complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / chemistry*
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / genetics
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism
  • Bacteriophage lambda / enzymology*
  • Bacteriophage lambda / genetics*
  • DNA Helicases / metabolism
  • DNA Packaging*
  • DNA, Viral / chemistry
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases / chemistry*
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases / genetics
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • Virus Assembly


  • DNA, Viral
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases
  • terminase
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • DNA Helicases