Temporal Correlation of DNA Binding, ATP Hydrolysis, and Clamp Release in the Clamp Loading Reaction Catalyzed by the Escherichia coli γ complex

Clamp loaders are multisubunit complexes that use the energy derived from ATP binding and hydrolysis to assemble ring-shaped sliding clamps onto DNA. Sliding clamps in turn tether DNA polymerases to the templates being copied to increase the processivity of DNA synthesis. Here, the rate of clamp release during the clamp loading reaction was measured directly for the first time using a FRET-based assay in which the E. coli γ complex clamp loader (γ3δδ′χψ) was labeled with a fluorescent donor, and the β-clamp was labeled with a nonfluorescent quencher. When a β·γ complex is added to DNA, there is a significant time lag before the clamp is released onto DNA. To establish what events take place during this time lag, the timing of clamp release was compared to the timing of DNA binding and ATP hydrolysis by measuring these reactions directly side-by-side in assays. DNA binding is relatively rapid and triggers the hydrolysis of ATP. Both events occur prior to clamp release. Interestingly, the temporal correlation data and simple modeling studies indicate that the clamp loader releases DNA prior to the clamp and that DNA release may be coupled to clamp closing. Clamp release is relatively slow and likely to be the rate-limiting step in the overall clamp loading reaction cycle.