Preparation of Reversibly Inactivated (R.I.) Phage.—

If B. megatherium phage (of any type, or in any stage of purification) is suspended in dilute salt solutions at pH 5–6, it is completely inactivated; i.e., it does not form plaques, or give rise to more phage when mixed with a sensitive organism (Northrop, 1954).

The inactivation occurs when the phage is added to the dilute salt solution.

If a suspension of the inactive phage in pH 7 peptone is titrated to pH 5 and allowed to stand, the activity gradually returns. The inactivation is therefore reversible.

Properties of R.I. Phage.—

The R.I. phage is adsorbed by sensitive cells at about the same rate as the active phage. It kills the cells, but no active phage is produced. The R.I. phage therefore has the properties of phage "ghosts" (Herriott, 1951) or of colicines (Gratia, 1925), or phage inactivated by ultraviolet light (Luria, 1947).

The R.I. phage is sedimented in the centrifuge at the same rate as active phage. It is therefore about the same size as the active phage.

The R.I. phage is most stable in pH 7, 5 per cent peptone, and may be kept in this solution for weeks at 0°C.

The rate of digestion of R.I. phage by trypsin, chymotrypsin, or desoxyribonuclease is about the same as that of active phage (Northrop, 1955 a).

Effect of Various Substances on the Formation of R.I. Phage.—

There is an equilibrium between R.I. phage and active phage. The R.I. form is the stable one in dilute salt solution, pH 5 to 6.5 and at low temperature (<20°C.).

At pH >6.5, in dilute salt solution, the R.I. phage changes to the active form. The cycle, active ⇌ inactive phage, may be repeated many times at 0°C. by changing the pH of the solution back and forth between pH 7 and pH 6.

Irreversible inactivation is caused by distilled water, some heavy metals, concentrated urea or quanidine solutions, and by l-arginine.

Reversible inactivation is prevented by all salts tested (except those causing irreversible inactivation, above). The concentration required to prevent R.I. is lower, the higher the valency of either the anion or cation. There are great differences, however, between salts of the same valency, so that the chemical nature as well as the valency is important.

Peptone, urea, and the amino acids, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, asparagine, dl-cystine, valine, and phenylalanine, stabilize the system at pH 7, so that no change occurs if a mixture of R.I. and active phage is added to such solutions. The active phage remains active and the R.I. phage remains inactive.

The R.I. phage in pH 7 peptone becomes active if the pH is changed to 5.0. This does not occur in solutions of urea or the amino acids which stabilize at pH 7.0.

Kinetics of Reversible Inactivation.—

The inactivation is too rapid, even at 0° to allow the determination of an accurate time-inactivation curve. The rate is independent of the phage concentration and is complete in a few seconds, even in very dilute suspensions containing <1 x 104 particles/ml. This result rules out any type of bimolecular reaction, or any precipitation or agglutination mechanism, since the minimum theoretical time for precipitation (or agglutination) of a suspension of particles in a concentration of only 1 x 104 per ml. would be about 300 days even though every collision were effective.

Mechanism of Salt Reactivation.—

Addition of varying concentrations of MgSO4 (or many other salts) to a suspension of either active or R.I. phage in 0.01 M, pH 6 acetate buffer results in the establishment of an equilibrium ratio for active/R.I. phage. The higher the concentration of salt, the larger proportion of the phage is active.

The results, with MgSO4, are in quantitative agreement with the following reaction:

See PDF for Equation

Effect of Temperature.—

The rate of inactivation is too rapid to be measured with any accuracy, even at 0°C.

The rate of reactivation in pH 5 peptone, at 0 and 10°, was measured and found to have a temperature coefficient Q10 = 1.5 corresponding to a value of E (Arrhenius' constant) of 6500 cal. mole–1. This agrees very well with the temperature coefficient for the reactivation of denatured soy bean trypsin inhibitor (Kunitz, 1948).

The equilibrium between R.I. and active phage is shifted toward the active side by lowering the temperature. The ratio R.I.P./AP is 4.7 at 15° and 2.8 at 2°. This corresponds to a change in free energy of –600 cal. mole–1 and a heat of reaction of 11,000. These values are much lower than the comparative one for trypsin (Anson and Mirsky, 1934 a) or soy bean trypsin inhibitor (Kunitz, 1948).

Neither the inactivation nor the reactivation reactions are affected by light.

The results in general indicate that there is an equilibrium between active and R.I. phage. The R.I. phage is probably an intermediate step in the formation of inactive phage. The equilibrium is shifted to the active side by lowering the temperature, adjusting the pH to 7–8 (except in the presence of high concentrations of peptone), raising the salt concentration, or increasing the valency of the ions present. The reaction may be represented by the following:

See PDF for Equation

The assumption that the active/R.I. phage equilibrium represents an example of native/denatured protein equilibrium predicts all the results qualitatively. Quantitatively, however, it fails to predict the relative rate of digestion of the two forms by trypsin or chymotrypsin, and also the effect of temperature on the equilibrium.

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