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J Mol Biol. 1998 Nov 13;283(5):913-29.

Activity of foreign proteins targeted within the bacteriophage T4 head and prohead: implications for packaged DNA structure.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 108 N. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD, 21201-1503, USA.


The phage-derived expression, packaging, and processing (PEPP) system was used to target foreign proteins into the bacteriophage capsid to probe the intracapsid environment and the structure of packaged DNA. Small proteins with minimal requirements for activity were selected, staphylococcal nuclease (SN) and green fluorescent protein (GFP). These proteins were targeted into the T4 head by means of IPIII (internal protein III) fusions or CTS (capsid targeting sequence) fusions. Additional evidence is provided that foreign proteins are targeted into T4 by the N-terminal ten amino acid residue consensus CTS of IPIII identified in previous work. Fusion proteins were produced within host bacteria by expression from plasmids or by produc tion from recombinant phage carrying the fusion genes. Packaged fusion proteins CTS IPIII SN, CTS IPIII TSN, CTS IPIII GFP, CTS IPIII TGFP, and CTS GFP, where [symbol: see text] indicates a linkage peptide sequence Leu(Ile)-N-Glu cleaved by the T4 head morphogenetic proteinase gp21 during head maturation, are observed to exhibit intracapsid activity. SN activity within the head is demonstrated by loss of phage viability and by digested genomic DNA patterns visualized by gel electrophoresis when viable phage are incubated in Ca2+. Green fluorescent phage result immediately after packaging GFP produced at 30 degreesC and below, and continue to give green fluorescence under 470 nm light after CsCl purification. Non-fluorescent GFP-fusions are produced in bacteria at 37 degreesC, and phage packaged with these proteins achieve a fluorescent state after incubation for several months at 4 degreesC. GFP-packaged phage and proheads analyzed by fluorescence spectroscopy show that the mature head and the DNA-empty prohead package identical numbers of GFP-fusion proteins. Encapsidated GFP and SN can be injected into bacteria and rapidly exhibit intracellular activity. In vivo SN digestion of encapsidated DNA gives an intriguing pattern of DNA fragments by gel analysis, predominantly a repeat pattern of 160 bp multiples, reminiscent of a nucleosome digestion ladder, This quasi-limit DNA digestion pattern, reached >100-fold more slowly than the loss of titer, is invariant over a range </=10 to 200 molecules of SN packaged per head, and independent of proteolytic cleavage of SN from the IPIII portion of the fusion, favoring a discontinuous packaged DNA structure. Rods of B-form DNA could be envisioned as protected from digestion, whereas bent or kinked DNA would be more susceptible to the diffusible SN. Such discontinuous packaged DNA structures are favored for phage T4 by a number of lines of evidence.

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