Structural ensemble and microscopic elasticity of freely diffusing DNA by direct measurement of fluctuations.

Department of Biochemistry, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 04/2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1218830110
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Precisely measuring the ensemble of conformers that a macromolecule populates in solution is highly challenging. Thus, it has been difficult to confirm or falsify the predictions of nanometer-scale dynamical modeling. Here, we apply an X-ray interferometry technique to probe the solution structure and fluctuations of B-form DNA on a length scale comparable to a protein-binding site. We determine an extensive set of intrahelix distance distributions between pairs of probes placed at distinct points on the surface of the DNA duplex. The distributions of measured distances reveal the nature and extent of the thermally driven mechanical deformations of the helix. We describe these deformations in terms of elastic constants, as is common for DNA and other polymers. The average solution structure and microscopic elasticity measured by X-ray interferometry are in striking agreement with values derived from DNA-protein crystal structures and measured by force spectroscopy, with one exception. The observed microscopic torsional rigidity of DNA is much lower than is measured by single-molecule twisting experiments, suggesting that torsional rigidity increases when DNA is stretched. Looking forward, molecular-level interferometry can provide a general tool for characterizing solution-phase structural ensembles.

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    ABSTRACT: Many structures inside the cell such as nucleosomes and protein-mediated DNA loops contain sharply bent double-stranded (ds) DNA. Therefore, the energetics of strong dsDNA bending constitutes an essential part of cellular thermodynamics. Although the thermomechanical behavior of long dsDNA is well described by the worm-like chain (WLC) model, the length limit of such elastic behavior remains controversial. To investigate the energetics of strong dsDNA bending, we measured the opening rate of small dsDNA loops with contour lengths of 40-200 bp using Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET). From the measured relationship of loop stability to loop size, we observed a transition between two separate bending regimes at a critical loop size below 100 bp. Above this loop size, the loop lifetime decreased with decreasing loop size in a manner consistent with an elastic bending stress. Below the critical loop size, however, the loop lifetime became less sensitive to loop size, indicative of softening of the double helix. The critical loop size was measured to be ~60 bp with sodium only and ~100 bp with 5 mM magnesium, which suggests that magnesium facilitates the softening transition. We show that our results are in quantitative agreement with the kinkable worm-like chain model. Furthermore, the model parameters constrained by our data can reproduce previously measured J factors between 50 and 200 bp. Our work provides powerful means to study dsDNA bending in the strong bending regime.
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    ABSTRACT: RNA plays myriad roles in the transmission and regulation of genetic information that are fundamentally constrained by its mechanical properties, including the elasticity and conformational transitions of the double-stranded (dsRNA) form. Although double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) mechanics have been dissected with exquisite precision, much less is known about dsRNA. Here we present a comprehensive characterization of dsRNA under external forces and torques using magnetic tweezers. We find that dsRNA has a force-torque phase diagram similar to that of dsDNA, including plectoneme formation, melting of the double helix induced by torque, a highly overwound state termed "P-RNA," and a highly underwound, left-handed state denoted "L-RNA." Beyond these similarities, our experiments reveal two unexpected behaviors of dsRNA: Unlike dsDNA, dsRNA shortens upon overwinding, and its characteristic transition rate at the plectonemic buckling transition is two orders of magnitude slower than for dsDNA. Our results challenge current models of nucleic acid mechanics, provide a baseline for modeling RNAs in biological contexts, and pave the way for new classes of magnetic tweezers experiments to dissect the role of twist and torque for RNA-protein interactions at the single-molecule level.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10/2014; · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Single-molecule tweezers measurements of double-stranded nucleic acids (dsDNA and dsRNA) provide unprecedented opportunities to dissect how these fundamental molecules respond to forces and torques analogous to those applied by topoisomerases, viral capsids, and other biological partners. However, tweezers data are still most commonly interpreted post facto in the framework of simple analytical models. Testing falsifiable predictions of state-of-the-art nucleic acid models would be more illuminating but has not been performed. Here we describe a blind challenge in which numerical predictions of nucleic acid mechanical properties were compared to experimental data obtained recently for dsRNA under applied force and torque. The predictions were enabled by the HelixMC package, first presented in this paper. HelixMC advances crystallography-derived base-pair level models (BPLMs) to simulate kilobase-length dsDNAs and dsRNAs under external forces and torques, including their global linking numbers. These calculations recovered the experimental bending persistence length of dsRNA within the error of the simulations and accurately predicted that dsRNA's "spring-like" conformation would give a two-fold decrease of stretch modulus relative to dsDNA. Further blind predictions of helix torsional properties, however, exposed inaccuracies in current BPLM theory, including three-fold discrepancies in torsional persistence length at the high force limit and the incorrect sign of dsRNA link-extension (twist-stretch) coupling. Beyond these experiments, HelixMC predicted that 'nucleosome-excluding' poly(A)/poly(T) is at least two-fold stiffer than random-sequence dsDNA in bending, stretching, and torsional behaviors; Z-DNA to be at least three-fold stiffer than random-sequence dsDNA, with a near-zero link-extension coupling; and non-negligible effects from base pair step correlations. We propose that experimentally testing these predictions should be powerful next steps for understanding the flexibility of dsDNA and dsRNA in sequence contexts and under mechanical stresses relevant to their biology.
    PLoS Computational Biology 08/2014; 10(8):e1003756. · 4.83 Impact Factor


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May 16, 2014