The RecB protein of Escherichia coli translocates along single-stranded DNA in the 3' to 5' direction: A proposed ratchet mechanism

R. J. Phillips, D. C. Hickleton, P. E. Boehmer, P. T. Emmerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


To investigate the role that the individual subunits play in the ATP-dependent helicase activity of the RecBCD protein we have investigated the ability of the RecB, RecC and RecD proteins to displace various 20-mer oligonucleotides annealed to either end or to the centre of an oligonucleotide 60 bases long. The results show that the only subunit which can displace the 20-mers in the absence of the other subunits is the RecB protein. Moreover, the 20-mer is displaced only if it is annealed to the 60-mer at the 5' end or the middle, suggesting that the RecB protein translocates along the 60-mer in the 3' to 5' direction, displacing annealed 20-mers as it proceeds. We have shown that reconstituted RecBC and RecBCD complexes displace the 20-mers but, unlike RecB, they do not require a 3'-ended single-stranded region for helicase action, but can displace the 20-mers from either end of the 60-mer. The level of helicase activity of the RecBC complex is considerably greater than that of RecB alone, and the activity of the RecBCD complex appears to be greater still. This hierarchy of activity is also shown by DNA binding studies, but is not reflected in the ATPase activities of the enzymes. We have also shown that the ability of trypsin to cleave various sites on the RecB molecule is modified by the presence of ATP or ATP-γ-S, suggesting that conformational changes may be induced in RecB upon ATP binding. We discuss a model for the ATP-driven, unidirectional motion of the RecB translocase along single-stranded DNA. In this model, the RecB molecule binds to single-stranded DNA and then translocates along it, one base at a time, in the 3' to 5' direction, by a 'ratchet' mechanism in which repeated stretching and contraction of the protein is coupled to ATP hydrolysis. The RecC protein in the RecBC complex is proposed to act as a 'sliding clamp' which increases processivity by preventing dissociation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-329
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular and General Genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997


  • 3' to 5' helicase
  • 3' to 5' translocase
  • RecB
  • RecBC
  • RecBCD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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