The DNA helicase encoded by gene 4 of bacteriophage T7 forms a hexameric ring in the presence of dTTP, allowing it to bind DNA in its central core. The oligomerization also creates nucleotide-binding sites located at the interfaces of the subunits. DNA binding stimulates the hydrolysis of dTTP but the mechanism for this two-step control is not clear. We have identified a glutamate switch, analogous to the glutamate switch found in AAA+ enzymes that couples dTTP hydrolysis to DNA binding. A crystal structure of T7 helicase shows that a glutamate residue (Glu-343), located at the subunit interface, is positioned to catalyze a nucleophilic attack on the γ-phosphate of a bound nucleoside 5′-triphosphate. However, in the absence of a nucleotide, Glu-343 changes orientation, interacting with Arg-493 on the adjacent subunit. This interaction interrupts the interaction of Arg-493 with Asn-468 of the central β-hairpin, which in turn disrupts DNA binding. When Glu-343 is replaced with glutamine the altered helicase, unlike the wild-type helicase, binds DNA in the presence of dTDP. When both Arg-493 and Asn-468 are replaced with alanine, dTTP hydrolysis is no longer stimulated in the presence of DNA. Taken together, these results suggest that the orientation of Glu-343 plays a key role in coupling nucleotide hydrolysis to the binding of DNA
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