Monday, January 13, 2014

Transient kinetics measured with force steps discriminate between double-stranded DNA elongation and melting and define the reaction energetics

Lorenzo Bongini, Luca Melli, Vincenzo Lombardi and Pasquale Bianco

Under a tension of ∼65 pN, double-stranded DNA undergoes an overstretching transition from its basic (B-form) conformation to a 1.7 times longer conformation whose nature is only recently starting to be understood. Here we provide a structural and thermodynamic characterization of the transition by recording the length transient following force steps imposed on the λ-phage DNA with different melting degrees and temperatures (10–25°C). The shortening transient following a 20–35 pN force drop from the overstretching force shows a sequence of fast shortenings of double-stranded extended (S-form) segments and pauses owing to reannealing of melted segments. The lengthening transients following a 2–35 pN stretch to the overstretching force show the kinetics of a two-state reaction and indicate that the whole 70% extension is a B-S transition that precedes and is independent of melting. The temperature dependence of the lengthening transient shows that the entropic contribution to the B-S transition is one-third of the entropy change of thermal melting, reinforcing the evidence for a double-stranded S-form that maintains a significant fraction of the interstrand bonds. The cooperativity of the unitary elongation (22 bp) is independent of temperature, suggesting that structural factors, such as the nucleic acid sequence, control the transition.

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