Undulations enhance the effect of helical structure on DNA interactions

D. J. Lee, A. Wynveen, A. A. Kornyshev, S. Leikin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


During the past decade, theory and experiments have provided clear evidence that specific helical patterns of charged groups and adsorbed (condensed) counterions on the DNA surface are responsible for many important features of DNA-DNA interactions in hydrated aggregates. The effects of helical structure on DNA-DNA interactions result from a preferential juxtaposition of the negatively charged sugar phosphate backbone with counterions bound within the grooves of the opposing molecule. Analysis of X-ray diffraction experiments confirmed the mutual alignment of parallel molecules in hydrated aggregates required for such juxtaposition. However, it remained unclear how this alignment and molecular interactions might be affected by intrinsic and thermal fluctuations, which cause structural deviations away from an ideal double helical conformation. We previously argued that the torsional flexibility of DNA allows the molecules to adapt their structure to accommodate a more electrostatically favorable alignment between molecules, partially compensating disruptive fluctuation effects. In the present work, we develop a more comprehensive theory, incorporating also stretching and bending fluctuations of DNA. We found the effects of stretching to be qualitatively and quantitatively similar to those of twisting fluctuations. However, this theory predicts more dramatic and surprising effects of bending. Undulations of DNA in hydrated aggregates strongly amplify rather than weaken the helical structure effects. They enhance the structural adaptation, leading to better alignment of neighboring molecules and pushing the geometry of the DNA backbone closer to that of an ideal helix. These predictions are supported by a quantitative comparison of the calculated and measured osmotic pressures in DNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11668-11680
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number35
StatePublished - Sep 9 2010


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