Numerous experiments have taken advantage of DNA as a model system to test theories for a channel-confined polymer. A tacit assumption in analyzing these data is the existence of a well-defined depletion length characterizing DNA-wall interactions such that the experimental system (a polyelectrolyte in a channel with charged walls) can be mapped to the theoretical model (a neutral polymer with hard walls). We test this assumption using pruned-enriched Rosenbluth method (PERM) simulations of a DNA-like semiflexible polymer confined in a tube. The polymer-wall interactions are modeled by augmenting a hard wall interaction with an exponentially decaying, repulsive soft potential. The free energy, mean span, and variance in the mean span obtained in the presence of a soft wall potential are compared to equivalent simulations in the absence of the soft wall potential to determine the depletion length. We find that the mean span and variance about the mean span have the same depletion length for all soft potentials we tested. In contrast, the depletion length for the confinement free energy approaches that for the mean span only when depletion length no longer depends on channel size. The results have implications for the interpretation of DNA confinement experiments under low ionic strengths.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. CBET-1262286). Computational resources were provided in part by the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota.