Aleksei Aksimentiev

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, United States

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Publications (84)447.03 Total impact

  • Spencer Carson, James Wilson, Aleksei Aksimentiev, Meni Wanunu
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    ABSTRACT: Voltage-driven transport of double-stranded DNA through nanoscale pores holds much potential for applications in quantitative molecular biology and biotechnology, yet the microscopic details of translocation have proven to be challenging to decipher. Earlier experiments showed strong dependence of transport kinetics on pore size: fast regular transport in large pores (> 5 nm diameter), and slower yet heterogeneous transport time distributions in sub-5 nm pores, which imply a large positional uncertainty of the DNA in the pore as a function of the translocation time. In this work, we show that this anomalous transport is a result of DNA self-interaction, a phenomenon that is strictly pore-diameter dependent. We identify a regime in which DNA transport is regular, producing narrow and well-behaved dwell-time distributions that fit a simple drift-diffusion theory. Furthermore, a systematic study of the dependence of dwell time on DNA length reveals a single power-law scaling of 1.37 in the range of 35–20,000 bp. We highlight the resolution of our nanopore device by discriminating via single pulses 100 and 500 bp fragments in a mixture with >98% accuracy. When coupled to an appropriate sequence labeling method, our observation of smooth DNA translocation can pave the way for high-resolution DNA mapping and sizing applications in genomics.
    Biophysical journal. 11/2014; 107(10).
  • C Maffeo, J Yoo, J Comer, D B Wells, B Luan, A Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: Over the past ten years, the all-atom molecular dynamics method has grown in the scale of both systems and processes amenable to it and in its ability to make quantitative predictions about the behavior of experimental systems. The field of computational DNA research is no exception, witnessing a dramatic increase in the size of systems simulated with atomic resolution, the duration of individual simulations and the realism of the simulation outcomes. In this topical review, we describe the hallmark physical properties of DNA from the perspective of all-atom simulations. We demonstrate the amazing ability of such simulations to reveal the microscopic physical origins of experimentally observed phenomena. We also discuss the frustrating limitations associated with imperfections of present atomic force fields and inadequate sampling. The review is focused on the following four physical properties of DNA: effective electric charge, response to an external mechanical force, interaction with other DNA molecules and behavior in an external electric field.
    Journal of Physics Condensed Matter 09/2014; 26(41):413101. · 2.22 Impact Factor
  • Christopher Maffeo, Thuy T M Ngo, Taekjip Ha, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: A simple coarse-grained model of single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) was developed, featuring only two sites per nucleotide that represent the centers of mass of the backbone and sugar/base groups. In the model, the interactions between sites are described using tabulated bonded potentials optimized to reproduce the solution structure of DNA observed in atomistic molecular dynamics simulations. Isotropic potentials describe nonbonded interactions, implicitly taking into account the solvent conditions to match the experimentally determined radius of gyration of ssDNA. The model reproduces experimentally measured force-extension dependence of an unstructured DNA strand across 2 orders of magnitude of the applied force. The accuracy of the model was confirmed by measuring the end-to-end distance of a dT14 fragment via FRET while stretching the molecules using optical tweezers. The model offers straightforward generalization to systems containing double-stranded DNA and DNA binding proteins.
    Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation 08/2014; 10(8):2891-2896. · 5.39 Impact Factor
  • Maxim Belkin, Shu-Han Chao, Gino Giannetti, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: Local modulation of temperature has emerged as a new mechanism for regulation of molecular transport through nanopores. Predicting the effect of such modulations on nanopore transport requires simulation protocols capable of reproducing non-uniform temperature gradients observed in experiment. Conventional molecular dynamics (MD) method typically employs a single thermostat for maintaining a uniform distribution of temperature in the entire simulation domain, and, therefore, can not model local temperature variations. In this article, we describe a set of simulation protocols that enable modeling of nanopore systems featuring non-uniform distributions of temperature. First, we describe a method to impose a temperature gradient in all-atom MD simulations based on a boundary-driven non-equilibrium MD protocol. Then, we use this method to study the effect of temperature gradient on the distribution of ions in bulk solution (the thermophoretic effect). We show that DNA nucleotides exhibit differential response to the same temperature gradient. Next, we describe a method to directly compute the effective force of a thermal gradient on a prototypical biomolecule—a fragment of double-stranded DNA. Following that, we demonstrate an all-atom MD protocol for modeling thermophoretic effects in solid-state nanopores. We show that local heating of a nanopore volume can be used to regulate the nanopore ionic current. Finally, we show how continuum calculations can be coupled to a coarse-grained model of DNA to study the effect of local temperature modulation on electrophoretic motion of DNA through plasmonic nanopores. The computational methods described in this article are expected to find applications in rational design of temperature-responsive nanopore systems.
    Journal of Computational Electronics 07/2014; · 1.01 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: PEGylation, or addition of poly(ethylene glycol) chains to proteins, is widely used to improve delivery in pharmaceutical applications. Recent studies suggest that stabilization of a protein by PEG, and hence its proteolytic degradability, are sequence-dependent and require only short PEG chains. Here we connect stabilization by short PEG chains directly to the structural dynamics of the protein and PEG chain. We measured the stability of human Pin1 WW domain with PEG-4 at asparagine 19 for a full mutant cycle at two positions thought to influence PEG-protein interaction: Ser16Ala and Tyr23Phe. We then performed explicit solvent molecular dynamics simulations on all PEGylated and PEG-free mutants. The mutant cycle yields a non-additive stabilization effect where the pseudo wild type and double mutant are more stabilized relative to unPEGylated proteins than are the two single mutants. The simulation reveals why: the double mutant suffers loss of beta sheet structure, which PEGylation restores even though the PEG extends as a coil into the solvent. In contrast, in one of the single mutants PEG preferentially interacts with the protein surface while disrupting the interactions of its asparagine host with a nearby methionine side chain. Thus PEG attachment can stabilize a protein differentially depending on the local sequence, and either by interacting with the surface, or by extending into the solvent. A simulation with PEG-45 attached to asparagine 19 shows that PEG even can do both in the same context.
    The Journal of Physical Chemistry B 05/2014; · 3.61 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Rectifying nanopores feature ion currents that are higher for voltages of one polarity compared to the currents recorded for corresponding voltages of the opposite polarity. Rectification of nanopores has been found to depend on the pore opening diameter and distribution of surface charges on the pore walls as well as pore geometry. Very little is known, however, on the dependence of ionic rectification on the type of transported ions of the same charge. We performed experiments with single conically shaped nanopores in a polymer film and recorded current–voltage curves in three electrolytes: LiCl, NaCl, and KCl. Rectification degrees of the pores, quantified as the ratio of currents recorded for voltages of opposite polarities, were the highest for KCl and the lowest for LiCl. The experimental observations could not be explained by a continuum modeling based on the Poisson–Nernst–Planck equations. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations revealed differential binding between Li+, Na+, and K+ ions and carboxyl groups on the pore walls, resulting in changes to both the effective surface charge of the nanopore and cation mobility within the pore.
    The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 04/2014; 118(18):9809–9819. · 4.84 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The conventional Poisson-Nernst-Planck equations do not account for the finite size of ions explicitly. This leads to solutions featuring unrealistically high ionic concentrations in the regions subject to external potentials, in particular, near highly charged surfaces. A modified form of the Poisson-Nernst-Planck equations accounts for steric effects and results in solutions with finite ion concentrations. Here, we evaluate numerical methods for solving the modified Poisson-Nernst-Planck equations by modeling electric field-driven transport of ions through a nanopore. We describe a novel, robust finite element solver that combines the applications of the Newton's method to the nonlinear Galerkin form of the equations, augmented with stabilization terms to appropriately handle the drift-diffusion processes. To make direct comparison with particle-based simulations possible, our method is specifically designed to produce solutions under periodic boundary conditions and to conserve the number of ions in the solution domain. We test our finite element solver on a set of challenging numerical experiments that include calculations of the ion distribution in a volume confined between two charged plates, calculations of the ionic current though a nanopore subject to an external electric field, and modeling the effect of a DNA molecule on the ion concentration and nanopore current.
    Communications in Computational Physics 01/2014; 15(1). · 1.86 Impact Factor
  • Manish Shankla, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: Control over interactions with biomolecules holds the key to applications of graphene in biotechnology. One such application is nanopore sequencing, where a DNA molecule is electrophoretically driven through a graphene nanopore. Here we investigate how interactions of single-stranded DNA and a graphene membrane can be controlled by electrically biasing the membrane. The results of our molecular dynamics simulations suggest that electric charge on graphene can force a DNA homopolymer to adopt a range of strikingly different conformations. The conformational response is sensitive to even very subtle nucleotide modifications, such as DNA methylation. The speed of DNA motion through a graphene nanopore is strongly affected by the graphene charge: a positive charge accelerates the motion, whereas a negative charge arrests it. As a possible application of the effect, we demonstrate stop-and-go transport of DNA controlled by the charge of graphene. Such on-demand transport of DNA is essential for realizing nanopore sequencing.
    Nature Communications 01/2014; 5:5171. · 10.74 Impact Factor
  • Jejoong Yoo, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: The DNA origami method permits folding of long single-stranded DNA into complex 3D structures with subnanometer precision. Transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and recently cryo-EM tomography have been used to characterize the properties of such DNA origami objects, however their microscopic structures and dynamics have remained unknown. Here, we report the results of all-atom molecular dynamics simulations that characterized the structural and mechanical properties of DNA origami objects in unprecedented microscopic detail. When simulated in an aqueous environment, the structures of DNA origami objects depart from their idealized targets as a result of steric, electrostatic, and solvent-mediated forces. Whereas the global structural features of such relaxed conformations conform to the target designs, local deformations are abundant and vary in magnitude along the structures. In contrast to their free-solution conformation, the Holliday junctions in the DNA origami structures adopt a left-handed antiparallel conformation. We find the DNA origami structures undergo considerable temporal fluctuations on both local and global scales. Analysis of such structural fluctuations reveals the local mechanical properties of the DNA origami objects. The lattice type of the structures considerably affects global mechanical properties such as bending rigidity. Our study demonstrates the potential of all-atom molecular dynamics simulations to play a considerable role in future development of the DNA origami field by providing accurate, quantitative assessment of local and global structural and mechanical properties of DNA origami objects.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 11/2013; · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Practical applications of solid-state nanopores for DNA detection and sequencing require the electrophoretic motion of DNA through the nanopores to be precisely controlled. Controlling the motion of single-stranded DNA presents a particular challenge, in part because of the multitude of conformations that a DNA strand can adopt in a nanopore. Through continuum, coarse-grained and atomistic modeling, we demonstrate that local heating of the nanopore volume can be used to alter the electrophoretic mobility and conformation of single-stranded DNA. In the nanopore systems considered, the temperature near the nanopore is modulated via a nanometer-size heater element that can be radiatively switched on and off. The local enhancement of temperature produces considerable stretching of the DNA fragment confined within the nanopore. Such stretching is reversible, so that the conformation of DNA can be toggled between compact (local heating is off) and extended (local heating is on) states. The effective thermophoretic force acting on single-stranded DNA in the vicinity of the nanopore is found to be sufficiently large (4-8~pN) to affect such changes in the DNA conformation. The local heating of the nanopore volume is observed to promote single-file translocation of DNA strands at transmembrane biases as low as 10~mV, which opens new avenues for using solid-state nanopores for detection and sequencing of DNA.
    ACS Nano 07/2013; · 12.03 Impact Factor
  • Maxim Belkin, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: Transport of ions, nucleic acids and other molecular species through pores in thin membranes is a process of fundamental importance to the biological function of a cell and practical applications in the field of molecular separation, filtering, and, recently, DNA sequencing. Various approaches to control the transport have been examined, including the effects of the geometry, charge and chemical functionalization of the nanopore surface. Thermophoresis in liquids, i.e. movement of molecules along a temperature gradient, was discovered more than a century ago and has already been employed in various applications, typically involving macroscopic systems. In this work, we explore the use of thermal gradients for regulation of nanoscale fluxes. Specifically, we use all-atom molecular dynamics simulations to examine the effect of thermal gradients on transport of ions, small organic solutes and long DNA molecules through solid-state nanopores. In our typical simulation, multiple thermostats are applied to different parts of the same simulation system, allowing steady-state temperature gradients to be established and the effective forces associated with the thermal gradients to be determined. The results of our simulations suggest that nanopore fluxes of molecular species can be regulated by means of thermal gradients. We expect our results to find applications in molecular separation and filtering technologies, nanofluidic electronics and nanopore sequencing of DNA.
    03/2013;
  • Winston Timp, Jeffrey Comer, Aleksei Aksimentiev
    Biophysical Journal 01/2013; 104(2):211-. · 3.67 Impact Factor
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    Chemical Reviews 10/2012; · 41.30 Impact Factor
  • Jejoong Yoo, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: The concept of "ion atmosphere" is prevalent in both theoretical and experimental studies of nucleic acid systems, yet the spatial arrangement and the composition of ions in the ion atmosphere remain elusive, in particular when several ionic species (e.g., Na(+), K(+), and Mg(2+)) compete to neutralize the charge of a nucleic acid polyanion. Complementing the experimental study of Bai and co-workers (J. Am. Chem. Soc.2007, 129, 14981), here we characterize ion atmosphere around double-stranded DNA through all-atom molecular dynamics simulations. We demonstrate that our improved parametrization of the all-atom model can quantitatively reproduce the experimental ion-count data. Our simulations determine the size of the ion atmosphere, the concentration profiles of ionic species competing to neutralize the DNA charge, and the sites of the cations' preferential binding at the surface of double-stranded DNA. We find that the effective size of the ion atmosphere depends on both the bulk concentration and valence of ions: increasing either reduces the size of the atmosphere. Near DNA, the concentration of Mg(2+) is strongly enhanced compared to monovalent cations. Within the DNA grooves, the relative concentrations of cations depend on their bulk values. Nevertheless, the total charge of competing cations buried in the DNA grooves is constant and compensates for about ∼30% of the total DNA charge.
    The Journal of Physical Chemistry B 09/2012; · 3.61 Impact Factor
  • Jeffrey Comer, Anthony Ho, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: Through all-atom molecular dynamics simulations, we explore the use of nanopores in thin synthetic membranes for detection and identification of DNA binding proteins. Reproducing the setup of a typical experiment, we simulate electric field driven transport of DNA-bound proteins through nanopores smaller in diameter than the proteins. As model systems, we use restriction enzymes EcoRI and BamHI specifically and nonspecifically bound to a fragment of dsDNA, and streptavidin and NeutrAvidin proteins bound to dsDNA and ssDNA via a biotin linker. Our simulations elucidate the molecular mechanics of nanopore-induced rupture of a protein-DNA complex, the effective force applied to the DNA-protein bond by the electrophoretic force in a nanopore, and the role of DNA-surface interactions in the rupture process. We evaluate the ability of the nanopore ionic current and the local electrostatic potential measured by an embedded electrode to report capture of DNA, capture of a DNA-bound protein, and rupture of the DNA-protein bond. We find that changes in the strain on dsDNA can reveal the rupture of a protein-DNA complex by altering both the nanopore ionic current and the potential of the embedded electrode. Based on the results of our simulations, we suggest a new method for detection of DNA binding proteins that utilizes peeling of a nicked double strand under the electrophoretic force in a nanopore.
    Electrophoresis 09/2012; · 3.26 Impact Factor
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    David B Wells, Maxim Belkin, Jeffrey Comer, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: Using all-atom molecular dynamics and atomic-resolution Brownian dynamics, we simulate the translocation of single-stranded DNA through graphene nanopores and characterize the ionic current blockades produced by DNA nucleotides. We find that transport of single DNA strands through graphene nanopores may occur in single nucleotide steps. For certain pore geometries, hydrophobic interactions with the graphene membrane lead to a dramatic reduction in the conformational fluctuations of the nucleotides in the nanopores. Furthermore, we show that ionic current blockades produced by different DNA nucleotides are, in general, indicative of the nucleotide type, but very sensitive to the orientation of the nucleotides in the nanopore. Taken together, our simulations suggest that strand sequencing of DNA by measuring the ionic current blockades in graphene nanopores may be possible, given that the conformation of DNA nucleotides in the nanopore can be controlled through precise engineering of the nanopore surface.
    Nano Letters 07/2012; 12(8):4117-23. · 13.03 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The protein nanopore Mycobacteria smegmatis porin A (MspA), can be used to sense individual nucleotides within DNA, potentially enabling a technique known as nanopore sequencing. In this technique, single-stranded DNA electrophoretically moves through the nanopore and results in an ionic current that is nucleotide-specific. However, with a high transport velocity of the DNA within the nanopore, the ionic current cannot be used to distinguish signals within noise. Through extensive (~100 μs in total) all-atom molecular dynamics simulations, we examine the effect of positively charged residues on DNA translocation rate and the ionic current blockades in MspA. Simulation of several arginine mutations show a ~10-30 fold reduction of DNA translocation speed without eliminating the nucleotide induced current blockages. Comparison of our results with similar engineering efforts on a different nanopore (α-hemolysin) reveals a nontrivial effect of nanopore geometry on the ionic current blockades in mutant nanopores.
    ACS Nano 07/2012; 6(8):6960-8. · 12.03 Impact Factor
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    Winston Timp, Jeffrey Comer, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: Nanopore-based DNA sequencing is the most promising third-generation sequencing method. It has superior read length, speed, and sample requirements compared with state-of-the-art second-generation methods. However, base-calling still presents substantial difficulty because the resolution of the technique is limited compared with the measured signal/noise ratio. Here we demonstrate a method to decode 3-bp-resolution nanopore electrical measurements into a DNA sequence using a Hidden Markov model. This method shows tremendous potential for accuracy (~98%), even with a poor signal/noise ratio.
    Biophysical Journal 05/2012; 102(10):L37-9. · 3.67 Impact Factor
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    Jeffrey Comer, Aleksei Aksimentiev
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    ABSTRACT: It has become possible to distinguish DNA molecules of different nucleotide sequences by measuring ion current passing through a narrow pore containing DNA. To assist experimentalists in interpreting the results of such measurements and to improve the DNA sequence detection method, we have developed a computational approach that has both the atomic-scale accuracy and the computational efficiency required to predict DNA sequence-specific differences in the nanopore ion current. In our Brownian dynamics method, the interaction between the ions and DNA is described by three-dimensional potential of mean force maps determined to a 0.03 nm resolution from all-atom molecular dynamics simulations. While this atomic-resolution Brownian dynamics method produces results with orders of magnitude less computational effort than all-atom molecular dynamics requires, we show here that the ion distributions and ion currents predicted by the two methods agree. Finally, using our Brownian dynamics method, we find that a small change in the sequence of DNA within a pore can cause a large change in the ion current, and validate this result with all-atom molecular dynamics.
    The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 02/2012; 116(5):3376-3393. · 4.84 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The charge of a DNA molecule is a crucial parameter in many DNA detection and manipulation schemes such as gel electrophoresis and lab-on-a-chip applications. Here, we study the partial reduction of the DNA charge due to counterion binding by means of nanopore translocation experiments and all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Surprisingly, we find that the translocation time of a DNA molecule through a solid-state nanopore strongly increases as the counterions decrease in size from K(+) to Na(+) to Li(+), both for double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA). MD simulations elucidate the microscopic origin of this effect: Li(+) and Na(+) bind DNA stronger than K(+). These fundamental insights into the counterion binding to DNA also provide a practical method for achieving at least 10-fold enhanced resolution in nanopore applications.
    Nano Letters 02/2012; 12(2):1038-44. · 13.03 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

1k Citations
447.03 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2005–2014
    • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
      • • Department of Physics
      • • Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
      • • Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
      Urbana, Illinois, United States
  • 2010–2012
    • Johns Hopkins University
      • Department of Medicine
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
    • IBM
      Armonk, New York, United States
  • 2011
    • University of Illinois at Chicago
      • Department of Physics
      Chicago, IL, United States
  • 2006–2010
    • Northern Illinois University
      • • Department of Physics
      • • Department of Electrical Engineering
      Urbana, IL, United States
  • 2009
    • University of Limerick
      • Department of Chemical and Environmental Science
      Luimneach, Munster, Ireland