A Novel Roll-and-Slide Mechanism of DNA Folding in Chromatin: Implications for Nucleosome Positioning

Michael Y. Tolstorukov, Andrew V. Colasanti, David M. McCandlish, Wilma K. Olson, Victor B. Zhurkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

167 Scopus citations


How eukaryotic genomes encode the folding of DNA into nucleosomes and how this intrinsic organization of chromatin guides biological function are questions of wide interest. The physical basis of nucleosome positioning lies in the sequence-dependent propensity of DNA to adopt the tightly bent configuration imposed by the binding of the histone proteins. Traditionally, only DNA bending and twisting deformations are considered, while the effects of the lateral displacements of adjacent base pairs are neglected. We demonstrate, however, that these displacements have a much more important structural role than ever imagined. Specifically, the lateral Slide deformations observed at sites of local anisotropic bending of DNA define its superhelical trajectory in chromatin. Furthermore, the computed cost of deforming DNA on the nucleosome is sequence-specific: in optimally positioned sequences the most easily deformed base-pair steps (CA:TG and TA) occur at sites of large positive Slide and negative Roll (where the DNA bends into the minor groove). These conclusions rest upon a treatment of DNA that goes beyond the conventional ribbon model, incorporating all essential degrees of freedom of "real" duplexes in the estimation of DNA deformation energies. Indeed, only after lateral Slide displacements are considered are we able to account for the sequence-specific folding of DNA found in nucleosome structures. The close correspondence between the predicted and observed nucleosome locations demonstrates the potential advantage of our "structural" approach in the computer mapping of nucleosome positioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)725-738
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of molecular biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 17 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


  • DNA deformation
  • base-pair shearing
  • knowledge-based potentials
  • nucleosome positioning
  • superhelical pitch

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