Mechanical separation of the complementary strands of DNA.
ABSTRACT We describe the mechanical separation of the two complementary strands of a single molecule of bacteriophage lambda DNA. The 3' and 5' extremities on one end of the molecule are pulled progressively apart, and this leads to the opening of the double helix. The typical forces along the opening are in the range of 10-15 pN. The separation force signal is shown to be related to the local GC vs. AT content along the molecule. Variations of this content on a typical scale of 100-500 bases are presently detected.
Article: Two distinct overstretched DNA structures revealed by single-molecule thermodynamics measurements[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Double-stranded DNA is a dynamic molecule whose structure can change depending on conditions. While there is consensus in the literature about many structures DNA can have, the state of highly-stretched DNA is still not clear. Several groups have shown that DNA in the torsion-unconstrained B-form undergoes an “overstretching” transition at a stretching force of around 65 pN, which leads to approximately 1.7-fold elongation of the DNA contour length. Recent experiments have revealed that two distinct structural transitions are involved in the overstretching process: (i) a hysteretic “peeling” off one strand from its complementary strand, and (ii) a nonhysteretic transition that leads to an undetermined DNA structure. We report the first simultaneous determination of the entropy (ΔS) and enthalpy changes (ΔH) pertaining to these respective transitions. For the hysteretic peeling transition, we determined ΔS ∼ 20 cal/(K.mol) and ΔH ∼ 7 kcal/mol. In the case of the nonhysteretic transition, ΔS ∼ -3 cal/(K.mol) and ΔH ∼ 1 kcal/mol. Furthermore, the response of the transition force to salt concentration implies that the two DNA strands are spatially separated after the hysteretic peeling transition. In contrast, the corresponding response after the nonhysteretic transition indicated that the strands remained in close proximity. The selection between the two transitions depends on DNA base-pair stability, and it can be illustrated by a multidimensional phase diagram. Our results provide important insights into the thermodynamics of DNA overstretching and conformational structures of overstretched DNA that may play an important role in vivo.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 04/2012; · 9.68 Impact Factor
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Dimeric kinesin motor proteins such as homodimeric kinesin-1, homodimeric Ncd and heterodimeric Kar3/Vik1are composed of two head domains which are connected together by a rod-shaped, coiled-coil stalk. Despite the extensive and intensive studies on structures, kinetics, dynamics and walking mechanism of the dimers, whether their coiled-coils are unwound or not during their walking on the microtubule is still an unclear issue. Here, we try to clarify this issue by using molecular dynamics simulations. Our simulation results showed that, for Ncd, a large change in potential of mean force is required to unwind the coiled-coil by only several pairs of residues. For both Ncd and kinesin-1, the force required to initiate the coiled-coil unwinding is larger than that required for unfolding of the single [Formula: see text]-helix that forms the coiled-coil or is larger than that required to unwind the DNA duplex, which is higher than the unbinding force of the kinesin head from the microtubule in strong microtubule-binding states. Based on these results and the comparison of the sequence between the coiled-coil of Kar3/Vik1 and those of Ncd and kinesin-1, it was deduced that the coiled-coil of the Kar3/Vik1 should also be very stable. Thus, we concluded that the coiled-coils of kinesin-1, Ncd and Kar3/Vik1 are almost impossible to unwind during their walking on the microtubule.PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(4):e36071. · 4.09 Impact Factor
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The strength of ionic bonds is essentially unknown, despite their widespread occurrence in natural and man-made assemblies. Here, we use single-molecule force spectroscopy to measure their strength directly. We disrupt a complex between two oppositely charged polyelectrolyte chains and find two modes of rupture: one ionic bond at a time, or cooperative rupture of many bonds at once. For both modes, disruption of the ionic bonds can be described quantitatively as an activated process. The height of the energy barrier is not only lowered by added salt, but also by the applied force. We extract unperturbed ionic bond lifetimes that range from milliseconds for single ionic bonds at high salt concentration to tens of years for small complexes of five ionic bonds at low salt concentration.ACS Nano 05/2012; 6(6):5297-303. · 10.77 Impact Factor
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Vol. 94, pp. 11935–11940, October 1997
Mechanical separation of the complementary strands of DNA
B. ESSEVAZ-ROULET, U. BOCKELMANN, AND F. HESLOT*
Laboratoire de Physique de la Matie `re Condense ´e, URA 1437, Ecole Normale Supe ´rieure, 24 rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris, France
Communicated by Calvin F. Quate, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, July 28, 1997 (received for review May 24, 1997)
two complementary strands of a single molecule of bacterio-
phage ? DNA. The 3? and 5? extremities on one end of the
molecule are pulled progressively apart, and this leads to the
opening of the double helix. The typical forces along the
opening are in the range of 10–15 pN. The separation force
signal is shown to be related to the local GC vs. AT content
along the molecule. Variations of this content on a typical
scale of 100–500 bases are presently detected.
Mechanical force at the molecular level is involved in the
action of many enzymes. This is the case for the processes of
replication or transcription in which enzymes translocate
processively with respect to DNA. Such translocation occurs
unidirectionally over long segments of DNA, and the enzy-
matic machinery has to develop a force against a number of
impediments: the disruption of complementary base pairs, the
possible attachments of the DNA or the enzymes to cellular
components, structural proteins that coat DNA and have to be
displaced, topological constraint, and viscous friction. The
force necessary to stop a transcribing Escherichia coli poly-
merase recently has been measured (1). In the case of repli-
cation (2), the DNA double helix is opened, and two daughter
strands are formed. The opening may be associated to the
translocation mechanism of the polymerase itself or may be
assisted by accessory proteins like helicases or single-strand
binding proteins. Moreover, because the strands are inter-
twined, strand separation is coupled to a local rotation.
Topological constraints are resolved by topoisomerases (3, 4).
a simple model had been considered (5) in which the mechanism
had been proposed in which the vertical part is the parent helix,
replication proceeds, a ‘‘speedometer cable’’ rotation motion was
proposed for all three branches of the Y.
We have set up an experiment to measure directly the forces
involved in the elementary process of mechanical strand
separation, with no enzyme present. The experiment pre-
sented here is approaching the Levinthal and Crane (5)
Force measurement on single molecules of DNA is an emerg-
ing field (6–13). For typical molecular interactions involving
biomolecules, the forces involved are small (sub-picoNewton to
10s of picoNewtons [pN ? 10?12N]). For this reason, sensitive
measuring devices (14–17) such as optical tweezers, soft micro-
needles, or levers of atomic force microscopes have been used.
To achieve mechanical unzippering of DNA, the small inter-
strand spacing (nanometer) has to be adapted to the micro-
meter size of a micromechanical device that will separate the
strands. To solve this problem, a specific molecular construc-
tion has been designed in which (i) one strand of the DNA to
be opened is prolonged by a linker arm and (ii) two specific
functionalizations are introduced to obtain the desired attach-
ments of the construction to the micromechanical device. The
design of the construction used in the experiment appears in
Fig. 1 and includes two molecules of double stranded ?-phage
DNA, each comprising 48.5 kb. The DNA to be opened is
DNA-1, and the linker arm is DNA-2. Oligonucleotides are
used to connect DNA-1 and DNA-2 and to introduce attach-
ment points via a digoxigenin group and a biotin group. The
other extremity of DNA-1 is capped with an oligonucleotide
forming a hairpin (18) (oligo-4), which prevents the separation
of the two strands when reaching the end of the opening
process. This allows repeated cycles of opening and closing.
Preparation of the Molecular Construction. The prepara-
tion is done sequentially, using ?-DNA from Pharmacia and
oligonucleotides from Pharmacia or Genset (Paris). The 12-
base single-strand segments (Cos end) that protrude at the 5?
ends of linearized ? DNA are used to assemble the construc-
The Cos sequence are: 5?-Agg TCg CCg CCC-3? and 5?-ggg
Cgg CgA CCT-3? We have chosen the following sequences for
Oligo1, 5?-Agg TCg CCg CCC AAg ggA CTA CgA gAT
Tg-3? (29 mer); Oligo2, 5?-Agg TCg CCg CCC CAA TCT CgT
AgT CCC AAA AAA TCA gCA gTA AC Biotine-3? (3?
biotinylated 44 mer); Oligo3, 5?-ggg Cgg CgA CCT digoxige-
nin-3? (3? digoxigenin 12 mer); and Oligo4, 5?-ggg Cgg CgA
CCT AgC gAA AgC T-3? (22 mer).
DNA-2 (10 ?g) and oligo-3 (preparation A, 1:10 molar ratio,
20 ?l) as well as DNA-1 (10 ?g) and oligo-4 (preparation B,
1:10 molar ratio, 20 ?l) were hybridized (55°C, 1 h) and then
ligated (0.2 Weiss units of T4 ligase, T ? 16°C, 1 h). Then,
preparation A and oligo-1 (preparation C), as well as prepa-
ration B and oligo-2 (preparation D), were hybridized (55°C,
1:10 molar ratio, 1 h), then ligated (0.2 Weiss units of T4 ligase,
T ? 16°C, 1 h), and then purified (Amicon 100 column).
Finally, preparations C and D with 15% added polyethylene
glycol (preparation E, 1:1 molar ratio of C and D, molecular
weight of polyethylene glycol ? 8000) were hybridized (40°C,
1 h, then cooled slowly), then ligated (0.2 Weiss units of T4
© 1997 by The National Academy of Sciences 0027-8424?97?9411935-6$2.00?0
PNAS is available online at http:??www.pnas.org.
A commentary on this article begins on page 11770.
*To whom reprint requests and correspondence should be addressed.
(DNA-1) and the linker arm (DNA-2) are comprised of double-
stranded ?-phage DNA (or occasionally of multimers of double-
stranded ?-phage DNA). Oligonucleotides (thick lines) are used to
introduce the biotine and dig attachments and to connect covalently
DNA-1 and DNA-2.
The molecular construction. The DNA to be opened
ligase, T ? 16°C, 2 h), and purified (Amicon 100 column). The
end mixture E was diluted for final use. Occasionally, con-
structs may incorporate multimers of ?-DNA (in the linker
arm or in the DNA to be opened).
Experimental Configuration. The experiments were per-
formed in a liquid buffer (PBS, pH 7.0?10 mM phosphate?150
mM NaCl, at room temperature), which was retained by a ring
glued with paraffin on top of a microscope slide. This assembly
formed a ‘‘well’’ (see Fig. 2, Inset) and was placed on an inverted
video microscope. The face of the microscope slide in contact
with the buffer was coated with an antibody against digoxigenin.
The digoxigenin functionalized extremity of the construction was
unzippering of DNA is presented schematically in Fig. 2. The
bead was attached to a glass microneedle (19) (treated with
biotin), which was introduced through the free meniscus and was
positioned by an xyz micromanipulator. The microneedle served
as a force sensor, i.e., the deflection of the tip of the microneedle
was monitored under a microscope as a function of the lateral
displacement of the surface. The microscope was custom-built
(objective Zeiss Achroplan, oil immersion ? 100, N.A. 1.25), and
images were collected by a black and white CCD camera [Cohu
(San Diego) model 4912–5100] attached to the microscope. The
images were recorded on an S-VHS VCR [Panasonic (Secaucus,
tip deflection of the microneedle was extracted either on-line
from the live video images or off-line at higher resolution from
the video tape, which will be described later. A custom-built
translation stage, based on a combination of a motor and a piezo
unit (Physik-Instrumente, Waldbronn, Germany, 50-?m range)
allowed coarse and fine lateral motion of the well. This motion
was measured with submicron resolution by an inductive gauge
connected to a 6.5-digit voltmeter. Data were transferred via a
general purpose interface bus to a PC.
Preparation and Use of a Microneedle. Using a commercial
pipette puller, we prepared tapered glass microneedles (typical
dimensions: shank diameter 1 mm, tip diameter 1 ?m, and
tapered length 1 cm). The stiffness varied from needle to needle
and was calibrated (as described in the next section). The needles
?-amino-propyltrimethoxysilane (Pierce) followed by reaction
with succinimidyl-6-(biotinamido)hexanoate]. The tip of a
treated microneedle stuck readily to the streptavidin-coated
microbeads upon touching them with the tip. After a measure-
ment, the beads could be removed by a mechanical shock on the
microneedle or by using a meniscus effect (simply taking the
microneedle out and then putting it back into the liquid).
Calibration of the Microneedle Stiffness. Using the previ-
ously described microscope set-up, a paramagnetic bead
(Dyna) was attached to the end of the microneedle within a
well (without DNA). A magnet was approached, and the
deflection of the tip of the microneedle vs. the magnet-to-bead
distance was measured. The magnet was removed to a position
that corresponded to a small deflection. The bead was then
detached mechanically from the soft microneedle using a
second, stiff microneedle controlled by micromanipulation.
The bead then moved quickly toward the magnet.
Using stroboscopic illumination, the time-dependent position
the magnet. The velocity of the bead as a function of the
bead-magnet distance was derived from these data. The local
velocity v was proportional to the force on the bead (by Stokes’
formula: F ? 6??Rv where ? is the viscosity of the buffer and R
is the radius of the bead). From both sets of measurement
(microneedle deflection vs. bead-to-magnet distance and bead
velocity vs. bead-to-magnet distance), we derived the force-
deflection curve and hence the stiffness of the microneedle. A
single microneedle (with a stiffness of 1.7 pN??m ? 20%) was
used throughout all experiments presented here.
adsorption of the construction to the bead), the force rises as a
force vs. extension curve of the double helix (12, 13) is observed.
This corresponds to the overstretching of the linker arm. Using
the above force calibration, force values of ?70 pN obtained for
that plateau are consistent with the values reported in the
Incubation of the Construction in the Well. In the preparation
steps in which a small volume of reaction was preferred, we used
Reactions took place in a thin layer of fluid limited by the
microscope slide and the disc. The microscope slide was coated
(6, 11) with antibodies against digoxigenin (anti- digoxigenin,
Boehringer Mannheim). Then, a dilution of the construction (10
?l of a dilution of typically 1 ng??l) first was added to the well,
and a disk was dropped onto it. Incubation typically was done in
this covered well for 30 min. Excess buffer was then added to the
well, and the glass disk was removed. The beads (Dynal, para-
magnetic beads, A ? 2.9 ?m, streptavidin-coated) were intro-
the molecular constructions. After 1 h of incubation, a large part
of the unattached beads was removed by dipping transiently a
small rare earth magnet. Dilutions and incubation times were
adjusted so that tethering events were rare, and tethering of a
bead with two constructions was negligible. Typically, 10–30
beads were observed within the field of view under the micro-
scope with a ?20 objective after removing the free beads. A
variable fraction of the beads was stuck to the surface, and a
they displaced by ?16 ?m and then stop). The characteristic
tether length (16 ?m) was understood as corresponding to the
length of the linker arm, and this implied that DNA-1 was not
opened by the forces associated to the flow.
was first attached to a chosen bead. Then a translation stage
displaced laterally the well while the base of the microneedle
was maintained at a fixed position. The deflection of the tip of
the microneedle under microscope was measured on the video
image as a function of this displacement.
Before the attachment of the microneedle on a tethered
bead, no external force was present, and the linker arm was
compacted by the action of the entropic forces. The beads were
thus situated at a close distance (?1 ?m) from the attachment
point on the bottom surface. Just after attaching the bead to
the microneedle, it was raised by a few micrometers above the
bottom surface to avoid solid friction between bead and
surface. The sample was displaced laterally at a constant
velocity in a given direction, and a sizable deflection appeared
when the displacement approached the contour length of the
stranded ?-DNA is forced open as the surface is displaced to the left.
(Inset) A plastic ring is glued to the microscope slide that is coated with
antidig. This well was placed on an inverted microscope. The mi-
croneedle was introduced through the free meniscus.
Principle of the force measurement in which a double-
11936 Biophysics: Essevaz-Roulet et al.Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94 (1997)
sample in the reverse direction; a symmetrical measurement
results. This symmetry was used to localize the ‘‘zero’’ point for
the displacement. The range of translation velocities explored
spanned from 20 to 400 nm?s although the data presented in
this paper were obtained in the low velocity range of 20 to 40
During a measurement, the bead-to-surface distance was
small compared with the lateral displacement (because of the
long linker arm). Therefore, the trigonometric corrections
A First Analysis at Low Resolution. In Fig. 3, an example of an
on-line (0.2–0.3 pN resolution) force measurement obtained at a
translation velocity of 40 nm?s is presented. For this particular
of 32 ?m. The horizontal axis of Fig. 3 is the displacement minus
the deflection; this is intended to correspond to the ‘‘end-to-end
distance’’ between the two anchor points of the molecular
construction. Point A corresponds to the initial attachment at
zero force and zero displacement. The segment A–B–C corre-
sponds to the extension of the linker arm against the entropic
of a single DNA double helix is qualitatively recovered.
At point C, a sudden change in the force vs. end-to-end
distance dependence occurs. A quasi-plateau C–D is observed at
and extending over a total length of ?50 ?m. This quasi-plateau
differs from the observed transition (12, 13) of dsDNA under
mechanical stretching because the latter (i) occurs at a typical
force level of 60–70 pN and (ii) extends only over ?10 ?m (for
a ? DNA), followed by a steep rise in force. In our experiment,
a fine structure was visible in the quasi-plateau and was repro-
ducibly obtained. Typically, for the first 20 ?m (from ?32 to 53
?m in Fig. 3), the average force was 13 pN with fluctuations of
?0.5 pN. For the last 20 ?m of the quasi-plateau (from ?60 to
In between (from 53 to 60 ?m), a marked dip was observed.
Going back from D to A (not shown), the two single strands
reannealed, and a new measurement cycle could be engaged.
The force signal acquired during this return phase may have
differed from the signal obtained during the opening, with
instabilities and partial nonreproducibility. However, upon
opening again, the force signal gives the same signature again.
Measurements may be interrupted by the breakage of the
anchoring or of the molecule, e.g., nicks. Typically, ?90% of
the tested molecules in a given sample begin to open.
Connection to the Sequence: A First Example. The full se-
quence of bacteriophage ?-DNA (20) was taken from the Euro-
pean Molecular Biology Laboratory database. An averaged GC
content curve (GC%), as a function of base index, is presented in
the inset of Fig. 3. The characteristic gross features of the GC%
curve (average over 1000 bases) are a high GC% of ?60% in the
first 20,000 bases, followed by a central notch and then a second
part (28,000–48,000) with a lower GC% of ?40%.
By a scaling adjustment of the horizontal axis of the GC
content curve, it was possible to approximately match the above
gross features with the experimental force curve vs. end-to-end
distance. This suggested the following empirical relation: a dis-
placement of 1 ?m of the well corresponds to a progression of
1000 bp in the sequence (corresponding to a total of 2000 bases
of ssDNA). During an opening experiment, the single strands
were stretched by an approximately constant force value of f0?
13 pN. The total length of a ssDNA of 2000 bases subjected to a
force of 13 pN is ?1 ?m (in a TE buffer at 150 mM NaCl) (12),
a value consistent with the empirical relation determined above.
A Measurement on an Inverted Construction. To experi-
mentally substantiate that a displacement corresponded to a
construction; in this new construction (called ‘‘??1’’ in oppo-
sition to the preceding construction called ‘‘?’’), the DNA-1
molecule has been reversed, i.e., the opening is expected to
occur from base index 48,502 to 1, rather than 1 to 48,502 in
?. This was obtained with a different set of oligonucleotides in
which oligos 2 and 4 have their Cos ends exchanged. A force
measurement on this construction (with a similar low resolu-
tion) gave a signal with the same features but in reverse order
(Fig. 4). This underlines the idea that the forces we measured
were indeed associated to the mechanical opening of the
double helix and that the signal (at least at this level of
resolution) was connected to the sequence.
function of the end-to-end distance while displacing the well at an
average velocity of 40 nm?s. The end-to-end distance is defined as the
displacement of the well minus the deflection of the microneedle. The
linker arm is a dimer in this particular measurement, and the rise of
force thus occurs ?32 ?m, i.e., twice the crystallographic length of
?-DNA. The quasi-plateau C to D corresponds to the opening of the
double helix. Going back from D to A (not shown), the two single
strands reannealed, and a new measurement cycle could be engaged.
(Inset) GC content (GC%) averaged over 1000 bp along the sequence
of ? phage DNA from 1 to 48,502 bp.
Force (deflection of the calibrated microneedle) as a
the part corresponding to the opening has been plotted (a) and
measured with the construction ? (same as Fig. 3). (b) Signal obtained
with the construction ??1, in which the opening starts at index 48,502
rather than 1; the plot has been reversed (opening occurs from the
right to the left on the figure) so that the signals obtained at a given
location of the sequence are superimposable. In c, the direct super-
imposition of a and b is presented.
Force vs. end-to-end distance obtained for ? DNA. Only
Biophysics: Essevaz-Roulet et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94 (1997) 11937
Force Signal at High Resolution. We carried out an analysis
of the sequence dependence of the force signal with a high
resolution mode of data extraction, performed off-line from
the video-taped movie of the bead and the microneedle under
the microscope. Fig. 5.1 is a typical video frame. A single video
line per frame, shown as a dark horizontal line, is sampled at
a constant rate of 5 or 12 times?s; it carries the information of
the instantaneous deflection of the microneedle. Each line is
converted to a computer file consisting of 640 pixels with 256
gray levels. From this, a spatio temporal image (5.2) is con-
structed (time linearly increasing from top to bottom). In this
example, the well is being displaced to the right, and the
microneedle bends accordingly. The scanned region corre-
sponds approximately to the region spanning the 17,000- to
19,000-bp index in the sequence of ? DNA. The signal, i.e., the
two parallel black strips (corresponding to the bead position as
a function of time) presents a line-to-line variation on a short
time scale corresponding to noise and a variation on a longer
time scale corresponding to the time-dependent force signal.
The major source of noise in the experiment is not Brownian
motion but mechanical vibrations arising from seismic or
acoustic perturbations. The noise is partially removed by
low-pass filtering, and the signal is extracted by a thresholding
procedure on the black?white contrast of the bead. Presently,
a resolution of about 50 nm is obtained for the deflection.
a succession of saw teeth with a distribution of amplitudes and
sizes. Those features are reproducible, e.g., when opening again,
a signal with about the same features at the same positions and
amplitudes is obtained. This reproducibility is better at low speed
details. We believe that the mechanical vibrations of the set-up
are responsible for those imperfections. In a given sawtooth, the
drops suddenly. Because of this difference in time-scale, a rise
the force as a function of the end-to-end distance, the displace-
ment has to be turned into displacement minus deflection. In the
coordinates (deflection vs. end-to-end) shown in Fig. 5.4, a slow
rise is turned to a steeper slope, and a fast drop is turned into a
trajectory following approximately a line with a negative slope of
?1 (because a large deflection is associated to only a small
High Resolution Comparison Between Force and Sequence.
the sequence of ? DNA appears in Fig. 6. The sequence is
presented through the GC content averaged over 100 bases
(thin, continuous, smooth line corresponding to a Gaussian
weight with a full width of 100 bases at 1?e of the maximum).
The correspondence that we determined (1000 bases ? 1 ?m
end-to-end distance) allows to present the curves with a
to 15,000 in base index. It is shown clearly that the signal is
related to the sequence; most of the steep rises in the force
signal correspond to peaks in the GC% curve. We described
earlier in this article that the sizable segments of negative slope
correspond to fast motions. Peaks in the GC% thus appeared
to block transiently the opening until the force reached a level
where the opening occurs quickly over a long segment in the
base index. When trying to adjust the width of the averaging,
a 50-base average gave more information than the signal
reflected; on the contrary, information contained in the
measured signal was lacking on a 200-base average. Thus, the
100-base average appeared to be a reasonable size to reveal the
triggering events; this does not mean, however, that the
resolution was 100 bases because the signal after a trigger
appeared to ‘‘surf over,’’ and some details of the sequence are
ignored. As a different way to define the sequence resolution
given by the force signal, the number of events in a total
opening gave a typical density of one event per 500 bases.
When reconsidering the deflection vs. displacement curve (Fig.
5.3), the slow rise in force corresponding to a sawtooth is
associated to a nearly blocked progression in the sequence. The
slope of the force rise vs. displacement was thus due to the total
elasticity of the mechanical configuration in which the displace-
ment was imposed through elastic components (i.e., the mi-
croneedle, the single strands, and the linker arm). When the
opening fork did not progress as fast as the mechanical displace-
ment, elastic energy was stored and subsequently released when
the opening fork progressed more quickly. This ‘‘molecular
stick-slip’’ has been analyzed in more detail elsewhere (39).
We found that the force level necessary to trigger the
opening (maximum amplitude of a given sawtooth) along the
the progression. These triggering events were observed here in
the 40–60% range; a linear fit in that domain of the force vs.
GC% gave a rough estimate of 15 pN for opening a 100% GC
sequence and 10 pN for a 100% AT sequence.
We report in this work a direct measurement on the forces
involved in the unzippering of a long segment of DNA. The
mechanical forces involved in the strand separation were in the
range of 10–15 pN and were shown to be sequence-dependent.
under the microscope during the DNA opening. The bead diameter is
spots in the background. The well is being displaced to the right, and
the microneedle is bent to the right by the molecule being opened. A
single video line per frame, shown as dark horizontal line, is sampled
at a constant rate of 5 times per second. From this, a spatio temporal
image (2) is constructed. The total time interval represented in 2 is 96 s
and corresponds to a displacement of the well of 1.9 ?m (time
increasing linearly from top to bottom). The two parallel black stripes
rising from the bead image contain the information on the time-
dependent deflection. The displacement of the well appears in the
inclined faint gray stripes arising from the surface defects. The faint
lines that are vertical corresponds to fixed spots (dust?defects in the
optics and camera). In 3, we present the extracted force signal
corresponding to 2. In 4, the deflection vs. end-to-end distance is
plotted for the same region as in 3.
(1) Typical video image of the bead and the microneedle
11938 Biophysics: Essevaz-Roulet et al.Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94 (1997)
The opening was shown to proceed in a nonhomogeneous
manner, and this effect was related to the sequence and the
elastic nature of the mechanical configuration. This unzipper-
ing occurred away (?1 ?m) from solid surfaces, hence there
was no disturbing influence due to solid molecule interaction.
Speed of Opening. The experiments reported here were per-
formed in the range of 20–40 nm?s, which correspond to an
with typical translocation velocities of 50–2000 bp?s observed
with processive replication or transcription enzymes. Mechanical
opening experiments at higher speeds were possible (up to
hundreds of base pairs per second) but were limited by the
response bandwidth of the microneedle. As mentioned before,
the force data were obtained during the opening phase. Upon
closing, we observed that the signal presented a degree of
nonreproducibility. Because the two single strands had to rean-
neal in exact register, any local disturbance might have hindered
transiently the process. Such a hindrance might have been a local
out-of-phase reannealing, the formation of possible secondary
structures in the opened single strands, or the possible trapping
helix imposed a rotation of the double-stranded part of the
molecule; this possibly would be associated to a complex dynam-
ics. Upon opening again, however, a reproducible signal was
Related Studies. A previous study with Atomic Force Micros-
coated with a type of nucleotide (A or C), and a surface was
coated with A, T, G, or C. A separation force of 54 pN was
(?10 pN for an AT base pair). It is possible that the values
close presence of the solid surfaces. Also, the rate of separation
was much higher in the AFM experiment, and this is expected to
have influenced the measurement (22).
Force separation of DNA oligomers have been measured also
with Atomic Force Microscopy by shearing apart opposite ex-
tremities (23). Using repetitive sequences (ACTG)n of variable
length hybridized to complementary oligonucleotides, breaking
forces of ?800 pN (for 12-base long oligonucleotides), 1200 pN
(for 16 bases), and 1500 pN (for 20 bases) have been reported.
Again, our results showed much smaller forces, and the results of
Lee et al. (23) (i) may include a strong coupling between bases
rate. The mechanical opening of a long segment of dsDNA has
been considered only theoretically (5, 24, 25). In Viovy et al. (25),
estimated force level of opening was 500 pN. In Thompson and
base, e.g., poly A on one strand and poly T on the other.
Melting vs. Mechanical Separation. Strand separation may be
obtained in vitro through melting. This well known helix-coil
transition (26, 27) may be obtained by destabilizing the double
helix with respect to the single strands. This may be obtained by
raising the temperature or by using denaturing agents or low
the dynamics are simple for short length and more complex for
long segments. Once a nucleus of 3–4 bases has been formed,
range of 106-2.107bp?s for short oligoribonucleotides. This rate
was found to be temperature and length-dependent. For larger
molecules, it is known that melting occurs through the formation
of bubbles (30–32). As the destabilization parameter is raised,
bubbles form in specific sites of the sequence and invade pro-
gressively the more stable regions. Using phage T2 or T7 DNA,
effect has been associated with the rotation of the molecule that
has to occur as melting progresses. The experiment described in
the present paper may be considered a ‘‘directional melting’’ of
the helix. In this latter case, the opening was performed at ionic
and temperature ranges at which no melted bubble was present.
An interesting open question, from both experimental and the-
oretical points of view, is whether there is a simple relation
between the formation of bubbles at higher temperature (i.e.,
collective phenomena of melting at zero force) and the zones of
sudden mechanical unzippering.
Order of Magnitude of Energies Involved. From our results,
the opening of 1 bp results in an average length l0liberated of
order 1 nm. An estimation of the characteristic energy ?0asso-
ciated with the opening process of 1 bp is thus: ?0? f0? l0? 1.9
kcal?mol. This compares reasonably with the unpairing?
(?1.5 kcal?mol for an AT pair and 3 kcal?mol for a GC pair).
Induced Rotation of the Double Strand. Opening the double
helix by pulling on the single strands generates rotation in the
case, one expects that the single strands either do not transmit
torsion imposed by the separation process. The opening of the
Two curves are superimposed: (i) The smooth curve is the GC% averaged over 100 bases (Gaussian weight with a total width of 100 bases at 1?e
of the maximum height) for the sequence of ?-DNA. (ii) The second curve is the force measurement (force vs. end-to-end distance) obtained by
mechanical opening (experimental points have been connected by lines).
Comparison between the force signal and the average GC content along a segment from 5000–15,000 bp of the sequence of ? DNA.
Biophysics: Essevaz-Roulet et al.Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94 (1997) 11939