Sequence-dependent motions of DNA: A normal mode analysis at the base-pair level

Atsushi Matsumoto, Wilma K. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Computer simulation of the dynamic structure of DNA can be carried out at various levels of resolution. Detailed high resolution information about the motions of DNA is typically collected for the atoms in a few turns of double helix. At low resolution, by contrast, the sequence-dependence features of DNA are usually neglected and molecules with thousands of base pairs are treated as ideal elastic rods. The present normal mode analysis of DNA in terms of six base-pair "step" parameters per chain residue addresses the dynamic structure of the double helix at intermediate resolution, i.e., the mesoscopic level of a few hundred base pairs. Sequence-dependent effects are incorporated into the calculations by taking advantage of "knowledge-based" harmonic energy functions deduced from the mean values and dispersion of the base-pair "step" parameters in high-resolution DNA crystal structures. Spatial arrangements sampled along the dominant low frequency modes have end-to-end distances comparable to those of exact polymer models which incorporate all possible chain configurations. The normal mode analysis accounts for the overall bending, i.e., persistence length, of the double helix and shows how known discrepancies in the measured twisting constants of long DNA molecules could originate in the deformability of neighboring base-pair steps. The calculations also reveal how the natural coupling of local conformational variables affects the global motions of DNA. Successful correspondence of the computed stretching modulus with experimental data requires that the DNA base pairs be inclined with respect to the direction of stretching, with chain extension effected by low energy transverse motions that preserve the strong van der Waals' attractions of neighboring base-pair planes. The calculations further show how one can "engineer" the macroscopic properties of DNA in terms of dimer deformability so that polymers which are intrinsically straight in the equilibrium state exhibit the mesoscopic bending anisotropy essential to DNA curvature and loop formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-41
Number of pages20
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics


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