In Escherichia coli, the replication origin oriC consists of two functional regions: the duplex unwinding element (DUE) and its flanking DnaA-assembly region (DAR). ATP-DnaA molecules multimerize on DAR, unwinding DUE for DnaB helicase loading. However, DUE-unwinding mechanisms and functional structures in DnaA-oriC complexes supporting those remain unclear. Here, using various in vitro reconstituted systems, we identify functionally distinct DnaA sub-complexes formed on DAR and reveal novel mechanisms in DUE unwinding. The DUE-flanking left-half DAR carrying high-affinity DnaA box R1 and the ATP-DnaA-preferential DnaA box R5, τ1-2 and I1-2 sites formed a DnaA sub-complex competent in DUE unwinding and ssDUE binding, thereby supporting basal DnaB loading activity. This sub-complex is further subdivided into two; the DUE-distal DnaA sub-complex formed on the ATP-DnaA-preferential sites binds ssDUE. Notably, the DUE-flanking, DnaA box R1-DnaA sub-complex recruits DUE to the DUE-distal DnaA sub-complex in concert with a DNA-bending nucleoid protein IHF, thereby promoting DUE unwinding and binding of ssDUE. The right-half DAR-DnaA sub-complex stimulated DnaB loading, consistent with in vivo analyses. Similar features are seen in DUE unwinding of the hyperthermophile, Thermotoga maritima, indicating evolutional conservation of those mechanisms.
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