Background: Long DNA palindromes have the potential to adopt hairpin or cruciform secondary structures that inhibit DNA replication. In Escherichia coli, this palindrome-mediated inviability results from the activity of the sbcC and sbcD genes, and genetic observations have suggested that they may encode a nuclease. Mutations in these genes also restore the defect in genetic recombination associated with recBC sbcB mutants.
Results: We have purified the E. coli SbcCD protein from an overexpressing strain and have shown that it has an ATP-dependent DNA double-strand exonuclease activity. Co-purification of nuclease with protein, antibody inhibition and the absence of activity in extracts lacking the sbcCD genes confirm that the activity is intrinsic to SbcCD. The purified protein also has an ATP-independent single-strand DNA endonuclease activity.
Conclusions: We have shown that sbcCD encodes a nuclease. The purified protein has double-strand DNA exonuclease and single-strand DNA endonuclease activities. We propose that SbcCD cleaves secondary structures formed at replication forks and that the broken forks can be repaired by homologous recombination.