High-affinity DNA binding of HU protein from the hyperthermophile Thermotoga maritima

Anne Grove, Louisiana State University
Lynette Lim, Louisiana State University


Prokaryotic genomes are compacted by association with small basic proteins, generating what has been termed bacterial chromatin. The ubiquitous DNA-binding protein HU serves this function. DNA-binding properties of HU from the hyperthermophilic eubacterium Thermotoga maritima are shown here to differ significantly from those characteristic of previously described HU homologs. Electrophoretic mobility shift analyses show that T. maritima HU (TmHU) binds double-stranded DNA with high affinity (Kd = 5.6(±0.7) nM for 37 bp DNA). Equivalent affinity is observed between 4°C and 45°C. TmHU has higher affinity for DNA containing a set of 4 nt loops separated by 9 bp (Kd = 1.4(±0.3) nM), consistent with its introduction of two DNA kinks. Using DNA probes of varying length, the optimal binding site for TmHU is estimated at 37 bp, in sharp contrast to the 9-10 bp binding site reported for other HU homologs. Alignment of >60 HU sequences demonstrates significant sequence conservation: A DNA-intercalating proline residue is almost universally conserved, and it is preceded by arginine and asparagine in most sequences, generating a highly conserved RNP motif; V substitutes for R only in HU from Thermotoga, Thermus and Deinococcus. A fivefold increase in DNA-binding affinity is observed for TmHU in which V is replaced with R (TmHU-V61R; Kd = 1.1(±0.2) nM), but a change in the trajectory of DNA flanking the sites of DNA intercalation is inferred from analysis of TmHU-V61R binding to DNA modified with 4 nt loops or with substitutions of 5-hydroxymethyluracil for thymine. Survival in extreme environments places unique demands on protection of genomic DNA from thermal destabilization and on access of DNA to the cellular machinery, demands that may be fulfilled by the specific DNA-binding properties of HU and by the fine structure of the bacterial chromatin. © 2001 Academic Press.