Nucleic-acid structural deformability deduced from anisotropic displacement parameters

Heather E. Peckham, Wilma K. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The growing numbers of very well resolved nucleic-acid crystal structures with anisotropic displacement parameters provide an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the natural motions of DNA and RNA. Here we report a new Monte-Carlo approach that takes direct account of this information to extract the distortions of covalent structure, base pairing, and dinucleotide geometry intrinsic to regularly organized double-helical molecules. We present new methods to test the validity of the anisotropic parameters and examine the apparent deformability of a variety of structures, including several A, B, and Z DNA duplexes, an AB helical intermediate, an RNA, a ligand-DNA complex, and an enzyme-bound DNA. The rigid-body parameters characterizing the positions of the bases in the structures mirror the mean parameters found when atomic motion is taken into account. The base-pair fluctuations intrinsic to a single structure, however, differ from those extracted from collections of nucleic-acid structures, although selected base-pair steps undergo conformational excursions along routes suggested by the ensembles. The computations reveal surprising new molecular insights, such as the stiffening of DNA and concomitant separation of motions of contacted nucleotides on opposite strands by the binding of Escherichia coli endonuclease VIII, which suggest how the protein may direct enzymatic action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-269
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Organic Chemistry


  • atomic thermal motion
  • base-pair parameters
  • nucleic acid deformability


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