The excisive recombination reaction of bacteriophage lambda involves a specific and efficient juxtaposition of two distant higher order protein-DNA complexes on the chromosome of Escherichia coli. These complexes, which mediate synapsis and strand exchange, consist of two DNA sequences, att L and att R, the bivalent DNA binding protein Int, and the sequence-specific DNA bending proteins, IHF, Xis, and Fis. The protein-protein and protein-DNA interactions within, and between, these complexes were studied by various biochemical techniques and the patterns of synergism among pairs of mutants with marginally impaired recombination function were analyzed. The DNA bending proteins facilitated long-range tethering of high- and low-affinity DNA sites by the bivalent Int protein, and a specific map is proposed for the resulting Int bridges. These structural motifs provide a basis for postulating the mechanisms of site-specific recombination and may also be relevant to other pathways in which two distant chromosomal sites become associated.
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