Upon completion of synthesis of an Okazaki fragment, the lagging strand replicase must recycle to the next primer at the replication fork in under 0.1 s to sustain the physiological rate of DNA synthesis. We tested the collision model that posits that cycling is triggered by the polymerase encountering the 5'-end of the preceding Okazaki fragment. Probing with surface plasmon resonance, DNA polymerase III holoenzyme initiation complexes were formed on an immobilized gapped template. Initiation complexes exhibit a half-life of dissociation of approximately 15 min. Reduction in gap size to 1 nt increased the rate of dissociation 2.5-fold, and complete filling of the gap increased the off-rate an additional 3-fold (t(1/2)~2 min). An exogenous primed template and ATP accelerated dissociation an additional 4-fold in a reaction that required complete filling of the gap. Neither a 5'-triphosphate nor a 5'-RNA terminated oligonucleotide downstream of the polymerase accelerated dissociation further. Thus, the rate of polymerase release upon gap completion and collision with a downstream Okazaki fragment is 1000-fold too slow to support an adequate rate of cycling and likely provides a backup mechanism to enable polymerase release when the other cycling signals are absent. Kinetic measurements indicate that addition of the last nucleotide to fill the gap is not the rate-limiting step for polymerase release and cycling. Modest (approximately 7 nt) strand displacement is observed after the gap between model Okazaki fragments is filled. To determine the identity of the protein that senses gap filling to modulate affinity of the replicase for the template, we performed photo-cross-linking experiments with highly reactive and non-chemoselective diazirines. Only the α subunit cross-linked, indicating that it serves as the sensor.
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