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J Mol Biol. 1989 Dec 5;210(3):439-52.

Autodigestion and RecA-dependent cleavage of Ind- mutant LexA proteins.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Arizona, Tucson 85721.


The LexA repressor of Escherichia coli undergoes a specific cleavage reaction in vivo, an event that leads to derepression of the SOS regulon and requires an activated form of RecA protein. In vitro, cleavage requires RecA at neutral pH; at alkaline pH, a spontaneous cleavage reaction termed autodigestion takes place. Both autodigestion and RecA-mediated cleavage cut the same bond, and are observed for the same set of substrates, suggesting that RecA acts indirectly to stimulate LexA self-cleavage at neutral pH, perhaps binding to LexA and acting as an allosteric effector. We previously isolated a set of lexA(Ind-) mutants that are deficient in in vivo RecA-mediated cleavage but retain significant repressor function. Here, we describe the in vitro cleavage of purified mutant proteins. All of those tested were deficient in both cleavage reactions. Although most of them were equally deficient in both reactions, some were more deficient in one reaction than the other. Several mutant proteins appeared to have defects in binding to RecA. Autodigestion of all but one of the poorly cleavable mutant proteins reached a maximum rate at pH around 10, as does wild-type LexA. The exception was KR156, which changed Lys156, a residue previously implicated in the mechanism of cleavage, to Arg, another basic residue: for this protein, the rate of autodigestion increased with pH at values above 11. RecA-mediated cleavage of KR156 was 1% the wild-type rate at pH 7, but increased with increasing pH to a plateau at pH 9.5, where the rate was 40% the wild-type rate. In contrast, an essentially constant rate was observed for wild-type LexA over the pH range 6 to 11. We suggest, first, that deprotonation of Arg156 and, by inference, Lys156 in the wild-type protein, is required for both autodigestion and RecA-mediated cleavage: and second, that RecA acts to reduce the pKa of Lys156, allowing efficient cleavage of wild-type repressor under physiological conditions.

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