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J Mol Biol. 1985 Oct 5;185(3):565-78.

DNA packaging of bacteriophage T4 proheads in vitro. Evidence that prohead expansion is not coupled to DNA packaging.


We developed a system for DNA packaging of isolated bacteriophage T4 proheads in vitro and studied the role of prohead expansion in DNA packaging. Biologically active proheads have been purified from a number of packaging-deficient mutant extracts. The cleaved mature prohead is the active structural precursor for the DNA packaging reaction. Packaging of proheads requires ATP, Mg2+ and spermidine, and is stimulated by polyethylene glycol and dextran. Predominantly expanded proheads (ELPs) are produced at 37 degrees C and predominantly unexpanded proheads (ESPs) are produced at 20 degrees C. Both the expanded and unexpanded proheads are active in DNA packaging in vitro. This is based on the observations that (1) both ESPs and ELPs purified by chromatography on DEAE-Sephacel showed DNA packaging activity; (2) apparently homogeneous ELPs prepared by treatment with sodium dodecyl sulfate (which dissociates ESPs) retained significant biological activity; (3) specific precipitation of ELPs with anti-hoc immunoglobulin G resulted in loss of DNA packaging activity; and (4) ESPs upon expansion in vitro to ELPs retained packaging activity. Therefore, contrary to the models that couple DNA packaging to head expansion, in T4 the expansion and packaging appear to be independent, since the already expanded DNA-free proheads can be packaged in vitro. We therefore propose that the unexpanded to expanded prohead transition has evolved to stabilize the capsid and to reorganize the prohead shell functionally from a core-interacting to a DNA-interacting inner surface.

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