Highly tolerated amino acid substitutions increase the fidelity of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase I

J Biol Chem. 2007 Apr 20;282(16):12201-9. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M611294200. Epub 2007 Feb 14.


Fidelity of DNA synthesis, catalyzed by DNA polymerases, is critical for the maintenance of the integrity of the genome. Mutant polymerases with elevated accuracy (antimutators) have been observed, but these mainly involve increased exonuclease proofreading or large decreases in polymerase activity. We have determined the tolerance of DNA polymerase for amino acid substitutions in the active site and in different segments of E. coli DNA polymerase I and have determined the effects of these substitutions on the fidelity of DNA synthesis. We established a DNA polymerase I mutant library, with random substitutions throughout the polymerase domain. This random library was first selected for activity. The essentiality of DNA polymerases and their sequence and structural conservation suggests that few amino acid substitutions would be tolerated. However, we report that two-thirds of single base substitutions were tolerated without loss of activity, and plasticity often occurs at evolutionarily conserved regions. We screened 408 members of the active library for alterations in fidelity of DNA synthesis in Escherichia coli expressing the mutant polymerases and carrying a second plasmid containing a beta-lactamase reporter. Mutation frequencies varied from 1/1000- to 1000-fold greater compared with wild type. Mutations that produced an antimutator phenotype were distributed throughout the polymerase domain, with 12% clustered in the M-helix. We confirmed that a single mutation in this segment results in increased base discrimination. Thus, this work identifies the M-helix as a determinant of fidelity and suggests that polymerases can tolerate many substitutions that alter fidelity without incurring major changes in activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Binding Sites
  • Catalysis
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • DNA Polymerase I / metabolism
  • DNA Polymerase I / physiology*
  • DNA Replication
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • DNA Polymerase I