Functional evolution of bacterial histone-like HU proteins
Bacterial histone-like HU proteins are critical to maintenance of the nucleoid structure. In addition, they participate in all DNA-dependent functions, including replication, repair, recombination and gene regulation. In these capacities, their function is typically architectural, inducing a specific DNA topology that promotes assembly of higher-order nucleo-protein structures. Although HU proteins are highly conserved, individual homologs have been shown to exhibit a wide range of different DNA binding specificities and affinities. The existence of such distinct specificities indicates functional evolution and predicts distinct in vivo roles. Emerging evidence suggests that HU proteins discriminate between DNA target sites based on intrinsic flexure, and that two primary features of protein binding contribute to target site selection: The extent to which protein-mediated DNA kinks are stabilized and a network of surface salt-bridges that modulate interaction between DNA flanking the kinks and the body of the protein. These features confer target site selection for a specific HU homolog, they suggest the ability of HU to induce different DNA structural deformations depending on substrate, and they explain the distinct binding properties characteristic of HU homologs. Further divergence is evidenced by the existence of HU homologs with an additional lysine-rich domain also found in eukaryotic histone H1.