Anna Alemany and Felix Ritort
Biomolecules diffusively explore their energy landscape overcoming energy barriers via thermally activated processes to reach the biologically relevant conformation. Mechanically induced unfolding and folding reactions offer an excellent playground to feature these processes at the single-molecule level by monitoring changes in the molecular extension. Here we investigate two-state DNA hairpins designed to have the transition states at different locations. We use optical tweezers to characterize the force-dependent behavior of the kinetic barrier from nonequilibrium pulling experiments by using the continuous effective barrier approach (CEBA). We introduce the mechanical fragility and the molecular transition-state susceptibility, both useful quantities to characterize the response of the transition state to an applied force. Our results demonstrate the validity of the Leffler–Hammond postulate where the transition state approaches the folded state as force increases, implying monotonically decreasing fragility with force and a non-negative transition state susceptibility at all forces.