The EcoRI restriction endonuclease was found by the filter binding technique to form stable complexes, in the absence of Mg2+, with the DNA from derivatives of bacteriophage lambda that either contain or lack EcoRI recognition sites. The amount of complex formed at different enzyme concentrations followed a hyperbolic equilibrium-binding curve with DNA molecules containing EcoRI recognition sites, but a sigmoidal equilibrium-binding curve was obtained with a DNA molecule lacking EcoRI recognition sites. The EcoRI enzyme displayed the same affinity for individual recognition sites on lambda DNA, even under conditions where it cleaves these sites at different rates. The binding of the enzyme to a DNA molecule lacking EcoRI sites was decreased by Mg2+. These observations indicate that (a) the EcoRI restriction enzyme binds preferentially to its recognition site on DNA, and that different reaction rates at different recognition sites are due to the rate of breakdown of this complex; (b) the enzyme also binds to other DNA sequences, but that two molecules of enzyme, in a different protein conformation, are involved in the formation of the complex at non-specific consequences; (c) the different affinities of the enzyme for the recognition site and for other sequences on DNA, coupled with the different protein conformations, account for the specificity of this enzyme for the cleavage of DNA at this recognition site; (d) the decrease in the affinity of the enzyme for DNA, caused by Mg2+, liberates binding energy from the DNA-protein complex that can be used in the catalytic reaction.

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