• S16 protein;
  • deoxyribonuclease activity;
  • cruciform DNA;
  • oriC DNA;
  • HU protein

We have recently shown that the ribosomal S16 protein of Escherichia coli is a magnesium-dependent DNase which introduces nicks into supercoiled DNA molecules [Oberto, J., Bonnefoy, E., Mouray, E., Pellegrini, O., Wikstrom, P. M. & Rouvière-Yaniv, J. (1996) Mol. Microbiol. 19, 1319–13301. In this work we analysed the DNA-binding and DNA-nicking properties of S16 using two different approaches. Gel-retardation assays showed that S16 is a structure-specific DNA-binding protein displaying a preferential binding for cruciform DNA structures. This specific binding to cruciform DNA was further investigated using a supercoiled plasmid carrying the origin of replication of E. coli (oriC) which is an (A+T)-rich DNA region with abundant palindromic sequences susceptible of forming cruciform-like structures in vivo. We show that the nicks introduced by S16 in oriC are not randomly positioned but are precisely localised near such palindromic sequences. In addition, the nicking activity of S16 appeared to be sequence dependent since the cuts introduced by S16 occurred next to an adenine, in most cases an unpaired adenine, usually followed by a GTT sequence. Overall these experiments indicate that S16 requires a cruciform-like DNA structure to bind DNA and the presence of a particular sequence in order to introduce specific single-stranded cuts into a DNA molecule.