The polymerase subunit of DNA polymerase III of Escherichia coli. I. Amplification of the dnaE gene product and polymerase activity of the alpha subunit.


The Escherichia coli dnaE gene, which encodes the alpha subunit of DNA polymerase III (pol III) holoenzyme, has been cloned in a plasmid containing the PL promoter of phage lambda and thermally induced to overproduce the alpha subunit. In cells carrying this plasmid (pKH167), the alpha subunit was amplified, after heat induction, to a level of about 0.2% of the total cellular protein. Polymerase activity was assayed in three ways: (i) gap-filling by pol III holoenzyme and subassemblies of it, (ii) the extensive replication of a primed, single-stranded DNA circle only by pol III holoenzyme, and (iii) complementation of a crude, inactive pol III holoenzyme (temperature-sensitive dnaE mutant fraction) in replication of a primed, single-stranded DNA circle. Amplification of the alpha subunit raised the polymerase level 10-fold in assay (i), indicative of the dependence of pol III gap-filling activity on this polypeptide; pol III holoenzyme activity remained unaffected (assay (ii)), but the complementation activity was raised 5-fold (assay (iii)). Thus, the elevated alpha subunit (free or in a subassembly form) can substitute in vitro for a defective alpha subunit in pol III holoenzyme, but cannot increase the in vivo level of about eight pol III holoenzyme molecules per cell. This low level of pol III holoenzyme is fixed in wild type cells (bearing no plasmid) despite the presence of a 5-fold excess of the alpha subunit, as inferred from the various assays. These results suggest that the low level of pol III holoenzyme is determined by a factor or factors other than the level of the alpha subunit.






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