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J Bacteriol. 2005 Oct;187(20):7081-9.

Nuclear magnetic resonance solution structure of the Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III theta subunit.

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Laboratory of Structural Biology, MR-01, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 111 Alexander Drive, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.


The catalytic core of Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III holoenzyme contains three subunits: alpha, epsilon, and theta. The alpha subunit contains the polymerase, and the epsilon subunit contains the exonucleolytic proofreading function. The small (8-kDa) theta subunit binds only to epsilon. Its function is not well understood, although it was shown to exert a small stabilizing effect on the epsilon proofreading function. In order to help elucidate its function, we undertook a determination of its solution structure. In aqueous solution, theta yielded poor-quality nuclear magnetic resonance spectra, presumably due to conformational exchange and/or protein aggregation. Based on our recently determined structure of the theta homolog from bacteriophage P1, named HOT, we constructed a homology model of theta. This model suggested that the unfavorable behavior of theta might arise from exposed hydrophobic residues, particularly toward the end of alpha-helix 3. In gel filtration studies, theta elutes later than expected, indicating that aggregation is potentially responsible for these problems. To address this issue, we recorded 1H-15N heteronuclear single quantum correlation (HSQC) spectra in water-alcohol mixed solvents and observed substantially improved dispersion and uniformity of peak intensities, facilitating a structural determination under these conditions. The structure of theta in 60/40 (vol/vol) water-methanol is similar to that of HOT but differs significantly from a previously reported theta structure. The new theta structure is expected to provide additional insight into its physiological role and its effect on the epsilon proofreading subunit.

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