In this paper we examine molecular details of the interaction of bacteriophage T4-coded gene 32 protein with oligo- and polynucleotides. It is shown that the binding affinity (Koligo) of oligonucleotides of length (l) from two to eight nucleotide residues for gene 32 protein is essentially independent of base composition or sugar type. This binding also shows little dependence on salt concentration and on oligonucleotide length; even the expected statistical length factor in Koligo is not observed, suggesting that binding occurs at the end of the oligonucleotide lattice and that the oligonucleotide is not free to move across the binding site. Co-operative (contiguous) or isolated binding of gene 32 protein to polynucleotides is very different; here binding is highly salt dependent ( ∂ log Kω ∂ log [NaCl] ∼- -7) and essentially stoichiometric at salt concentrations less than ~0.2 m (for poly(rA)). Binding becomes much weaker and the binding isotherms appear typically co-operative (sigmoid) in protein concentration at higher salt concentrations. We demonstrate, by fitting the co-operative binding isotherms to theoretical plots at various salt concentrations and also by measuring binding at very low protein binding density (ν), that the entire salt dependence of Kω is in the intrinsic binding constant (K); the co-operativity parameter (ω) is essentially independent of salt concentration. Furthermore, by determining titration curves in the presence of salts containing a series of different anions and cations, it is shown that the major part of the salt dependence of the gene 32 protein-polynucleotide interaction is due to anion (rather than to cation) displacement effects. Binding parameters of oligonucleotides of length sufficient to bind two or more gene 32 protein monomers show behavior intermediate between the oligonucleotide and the polynucleotide binding modes. These different binding modes probably reflect different conformations of the protein; the results are analyzed to produce a preliminary molecular model of the interactions of gene 32 protein with nucleic acids in its different binding modes.
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