Bound or free: interaction of the C-terminal domain of Escherichia coli single-stranded DNA-binding protein (SSB) with the tetrameric core of SSB
Single-stranded DNA (ssDNA)-binding protein (SSB) protects ssDNA from degradation and recruits other proteins for DNA replication and repair. Escherichia coli SSB is the prototypical eubacterial SSB in a family of tetrameric SSBs. It consists of a structurally well-defined ssDNA binding domain (OB-domain) and a disordered C-terminal domain (C-domain). The eight-residue C-terminal segment of SSB (C-peptide) mediates the binding of SSB to many different SSB-binding proteins. Previously published nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data of the monomeric state at pH 3.4 showed that the C-peptide binds to the OB-domain at a site that overlaps with the ssDNA binding site, but investigating the protein at neutral pH is difficult because of the high molecular mass and limited solubility of the tetramer. Here we show that the C-domain is highly mobile in the SSB tetramer at neutral pH and that binding of the C-peptide to the OB-domain is so weak that most of the C-peptides are unbound even in the absence of ssDNA. We address the problem of determining intramolecular binding affinities in the situation of fast exchange between two states, one of which cannot be observed by NMR and cannot be fully populated. The results were confirmed by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy and microscale thermophoresis. The C-peptide-OB-domain interaction is shown to be driven primarily by electrostatic interactions, so that binding of 1 equiv of (dT)35 releases practically all C-peptides from the OB-domain tetramer. The interaction is much more sensitive to NaCl than to potassium glutamate, which is the usual osmolyte in E. coli. As the C-peptide is predominantly in the unbound state irrespective of the presence of ssDNA, long-range electrostatic effects from the C-peptide may contribute more to regulating the activity of SSB than any engagement of the C-peptide by the OB-domain.