Electrostatic effects in short superhelical DNA

Marcia O. Fenley, Wilma K. Olson, Irwin Tobias, Gerald S. Manning

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43 Scopus citations


We present Monte Carlo simulations of the equilibrium configurations of short closed circular DNA that obeys a combined elastic, hard-sphere, and electrostatic energy potential. We employ a B-spline representation to model chain configuration and simulate the effects of salt on chain folding by varying the Debye screening parameter. We obtain global equilibrium configurations of closed circular DNA, with several imposed linking number differences, at two salt concentrations (specifically at the extremes of no added salt and the high salt regime), and for different chain lengths. Minimization of the composite elastic/long-range potential energy under the constraints of ring closure and fixed chain length is found to produce structures that are consistent with the configurations of short supercoiled DNA observed experimentally. The structures generated under the constraints of an electrostatic potential are less compact than those subjected only to an elastic term and a hard-sphere constraint. For a fixed linking number difference greater than a critical value, the interwound structures obtained under the condition of high salt are more compact than those obtained under the condition of no added salt. In the case of no added salt, the electrostatic energy plays a dominant role over the elastic energy in dictating the shape of the closed circular DNA. The DNA supercoil opens up with increasing chain length at low salt concentration. A branched three-leaf rose structure with a fixed linking number difference is higher in energy than the interwound form at both salt concentrations employed here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-271
Number of pages17
JournalBiophysical chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


  • Electrostatics
  • Monte Carlo simulations
  • Simulated annealing
  • Superhelical DNA

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