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J Bacteriol. 2003 Nov;185(22):6633-9.

Purification and characterization of the PcrA helicase of Bacillus anthracis.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


PcrA is an essential helicase in gram-positive bacteria, and a gene encoding this helicase has been identified in all such organisms whose genomes have been sequenced so far. The precise role of PcrA that makes it essential for cell growth is not known; however, PcrA does not appear to be necessary for chromosome replication. The pcrA gene was identified in the genome of Bacillus anthracis on the basis of its sequence homology to the corresponding genes of Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus, with which it shares 76 and 72% similarity, respectively. The pcrA gene of B. anthracis was isolated by PCR amplification and cloning into Escherichia coli. The PcrA protein was overexpressed with a His6 fusion at its amino-terminal end. The purified His-PcrA protein showed ATPase activity that was stimulated in the presence of single-stranded (ss) DNA (ssDNA). Interestingly, PcrA showed robust 3'-->5' as well as 5'-->3' helicase activities, with substrates containing a duplex region and a 3' or 5' ss poly(dT) tail. PcrA also efficiently unwound oligonucleotides containing a duplex region and a 5' or 3' ss tail with the potential to form a secondary structure. DNA binding experiments showed that PcrA bound much more efficiently to oligonucleotides containing a duplex region and a 5' or 3' ss tail with a potential to form a secondary structure than to those with ssDNAs or duplex DNAs with ss poly(dT) tails. Our results suggest that specialized DNA structures and/or sequences represent natural substrates of PcrA in biochemical processes that are essential for the growth and survival of gram-positive organisms, including B. anthracis.

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