Sequential headful packaging and fate of the cleaved DNA ends in bacteriophage SPP1

J Mol Biol. 1996 Dec 20;264(5):954-67. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1996.0689.


The virulent Bacillus subtilis bacteriophage SPP1 packages its DNA from a precursor concatemer by a headful mechanism. Following disruption of mature virions with chelating agents the chromosome end produced by the headful cut remains stably bound to the phage tail. Cleavage of this tail-chromosome complex with restriction endonucleases that recognize single asymmetric positions within the SPP1 genome yields several distinct classes of DNA molecules whose size reflects the packaging cycle they were generated from. A continuous decrease in the number of molecules within each class derived from successive encapsidation rounds indicates that there are several packaging series which end after each headful packaging cycle. The frequency of molecules in each packaging class follows the distribution expected for a sequential mechanism initiated unidirectionally at a defined position in the genome (pac). The heterogeneity of the DNA fragment sizes within each class reveals an imprecision in headful cleavage of approximately 2.5 kb (5.6% of the genome size). The number of encapsidation events in a packaging series (processivity) was observed to increase with time during the infection process. DNA ejection through the tail can be induced in vitro by a variety of mild denaturing conditions. The first DNA extremity to exit the virion is invariably the same that was observed to be bound to the tail, implying that the viral chromosome is ejected with a specific polarity to penetrate the host. In mature virions a short segment of this chromosome end (55 to 67 bp equivalent to 187 to 288 A) is fixed to the tail area proximal to the head (connector). Upon ejection this extremity is the first to move along the tail tube to exit from the virion through the region where the tail spike was attached.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus Phages / chemistry
  • Bacillus Phages / metabolism*
  • Bacillus Phages / pathogenicity
  • Bacillus subtilis / virology*
  • DNA, Viral / chemistry
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism*
  • DNA, Viral / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nucleic Acid Precursors / metabolism
  • Virulence


  • DNA, Viral
  • Nucleic Acid Precursors