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EMBO J. 1989 Mar;8(3):797-804.

SPKK, a new nucleic acid-binding unit of protein found in histone.

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Laboratory of Neurochemistry, National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Okazaki, Japan.


A new DNA-binding unit of a protein different from the alpha-helix, the beta-sheet and the Zn-finger is proposed based on the analysis of the structure of the N-terminus of sea urchin spermatogenous histone H1. DNA-binding arms of the sea urchin spermatogenous histones, H1 and H2B, are composed of repeats of Ser-Pro-Lys(Arg)-Lys(Arg) (SPKK) residues. A six-times repeat of SPKK (S6 peptide) was isolated from H1 and the competition of S6 for DNA binding with a DNA-binding dye, Hoechst 33258, was analysed. The S6 peptide is shown to be a competitive inhibitor of Hoechst 33258, and it is concluded that the SPKK repeat binds to DNA in its minor groove with a binding constant, KS6 = 1.67 X 10(10) M-1. The circular dichroism (CD) spectrum of a synthetic peptide, SPRKSPRK (S2 peptide), is quite different from those of both the alpha-helix and the beta-sheet and resembles that of a random coil. From statistical consideration of protein structures it is proposed that SPKK forms a compact beta-turn stabilized by an additional hydrogen bond. Since a repeated chain of such turn of SPKK offers a repeat of amides of Ser residues at a distance similar to that of DNA-binding amides of the drugs, Hoechst 33258 and netropsin, and since the amides of these drugs bind to DNA replacing the spine of hydration in a minor groove, it is proposed that a repeat of SPKK binds to DNA in the minor groove using similar hydrogen bonds.

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