Protein-primed DNA replication constitutes a strategy to initiate viral DNA synthesis in a variety of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. Although the main function of viral terminal proteins (TPs) is to provide a free hydroxyl group to start initiation of DNA replication, there are compelling evidences that TPs can also play other biological roles. In the case of Bacillus subtilis bacteriophage ϕ29, the N-terminal domain of the TP organizes viral DNA replication at the bacterial nucleoid being essential for an efficient phage DNA replication, and it contains a nuclear localization signal (NLS) that is functional in eukaryotes. Here we provide information about the structural properties of the ϕ29 TP N-terminal domain, which possesses sequence-independent DNA-binding capacity, and dissect the amino acid residues important for its biological function. By mutating all the basic residues of the TP N-terminal domain we identify the amino acids responsible for its interaction with the B. subtilis genome, establishing a correlation between the capacity of DNA-binding and nucleoid localization of the protein. Significantly, these residues are important to recruit the DNA polymerase at the bacterial nucleoid and, subsequently, for an efficient phage DNA replication.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.