The oligonucleotide [5′-32P]pdT8d(-)dTn, containing an apurinic/apyrimidinic (AP) site [d(-)], yields three radioactive products when incubated at alkaline pH: two of them, forming a doublet approximately at the level of pdT8dA when analysed by polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis, are the result of the beta-elimination reaction, whereas the third is pdT8p resulting from beta delta-elimination. The incubation of [5′-32P]pdT8d(-)dTn, hybridized with poly(dA), with E. coli endonuclease III yields two radioactive products which have the same electrophoretic behaviour as the doublet obtained by alkaline beta-elimination. The oligonucleotide pdT8d(-) is degraded by the 3′-5′ exonuclease activity of T4 DNA polymerase as well as pdT8dA, showing that a base-free deoxyribose at the 3′ end is not an obstacle for this activity. The radioactive products from [5′-32P]pdT8d(-)dTn cleaved by alkaline beta-elimination or by E. coli endonuclease III are not degraded by the 3‘-5’ exonuclease activity of T4 DNA polymerase. When DNA containing AP sites labelled with 32P 5′ to the base-free deoxyribose labelled with 3H in the 1′ and 2′ positions is degraded by E. coli endonuclease VI (exonuclease III) and snake venom phosphodiesterase, the two radionuclides are found exclusively in deoxyribose 5-phosphate and the 3H/32P ratio in this sugar phosphate is the same as in the substrate DNA. When DNA containing these doubly-labelled AP sites is degraded by alkaline treatment or with Lys-Trp-Lys, followed by E. coli endonuclease VI (exonuclease III), some 3H is found in a volatile compound (probably 3H2O) whereas the 3H/32P ratio is decreased in the resulting sugar phosphate which has a chromatographic behaviour different from that of deoxyribose 5-phosphate. Treatment of the DNA containing doubly-labelled AP sites with E. coli endonuclease III, then with E. coli endonuclease VI (exonuclease III), also results in the loss of 3H and the formation of a sugar phosphate with a lower 3H/32P ratio that behaves chromatographically as the beta-elimination product digested with E. coli endonuclease VI (exonuclease III). From these data, we conclude that E. coli endonuclease III cleaves the phosphodiester bond 3′ to the AP site, but that the cleavage is not a hydrolysis leaving a base-free deoxyribose at the 3′ end as it has been so far assumed. The cleavage might be the result of a beta-elimination analogous to the one produced by an alkaline pH or Lys-Trp-Lys. Thus it would seem that E. coli ‘endonuclease III’ is, after all, not an endonuclease.

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