Functional specificity of a protein-DNA complex mediated by two arginines bound to the minor groove

J Bacteriol. 2012 Sep;194(17):4727-35. doi: 10.1128/JB.00677-12. Epub 2012 Jun 29.


A bacteriophage Ø29 transcriptional regulator, protein p4, interacts with its DNA target by employing two mechanisms: by direct readout of the chemical signatures of only one DNA base and by inducing local modification on the topology of short A tracts (indirect readout). p4 binds as a dimer to targets consisting of imperfect inverted repeats. Here we used molecular dynamic simulation to define interactions of a cluster of 12 positively charged amino acids of p4 with DNA and biochemical assays with modified DNA targets and mutated proteins to quantify the contribution of residues in the nucleoprotein complex. Our results show the implication of Arg54, with non-base-specific interaction in the central A tract, in p4 binding affinity. Despite being chemically equivalent and in identical protein monomers, the two Arg54 residues differed in their interactions with DNA. We discuss an indirect-readout mechanism for p4-DNA recognition mediated by dissimilar interaction of arginines penetrating the minor groove and the inherent properties of the A tract. Our findings extend the current understanding of protein-DNA recognition and contribute to the relevance of the sequence-dependent conformational malleability of the DNA, shedding light on the role of arginines in binding affinity. Characterization of mutant p4R54A shows that the residue is required for the activity of the protein as a transcriptional regulator.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arginine / chemistry
  • Arginine / metabolism*
  • Bacillus Phages / metabolism*
  • Binding Sites
  • DNA, Viral / chemistry*
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Nucleoproteins / chemistry
  • Nucleoproteins / metabolism
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Multimerization
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Viral Proteins / chemistry*
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism*


  • DNA, Viral
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Nucleoproteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Viral Proteins
  • p4 protein, Bacteriophage phi 29
  • Arginine