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Characterizing the bending and flexibility induced by bulges in DNA duplexes

John S. Schreck, Flavio Romano, Thomas E. Ouldridge, Ard A. Louis and Jonathan P.K. Doye

J. Chem. Phys. 142, 165101 (2015)


Advances in DNA nanotechnology have stimulated the search for simple motifs that can be used to control the properties of DNA nanostructures. One such motif, which has been used extensively in structures such as polyhedral cages, two-dimensional arrays, and ribbons, is a bulged duplex, that is two helical segments that connect at a bulge loop. We use a coarse-grained model of DNA to characterize such bulged duplexes. We find that this motif can adopt structures belonging to two main classes: one where the stacking of the helices at the center of the system is preserved, the geometry is roughly straight and the bulge is on one side of the duplex, and the other where the stacking at the center is broken, thus allowing this junction to act as a hinge and increasing flexibility. Small loops favor states where stacking at the center of the duplex is preserved, with loop bases either flipped out or incorporated into the duplex. Duplexes with longer loops show more of a tendency to unstack at the bulge and adopt an open structure. The unstacking probability, however, is highest for loops of intermediate lengths, when the rigidity of single-stranded DNA is significant and the loop resists compression. The properties of this basic structural motif clearly correlate with the structural behavior of certain nano-scale objects, where the enhanced flexibility associated with larger bulges has been used to tune the self-assembly product as well as the detailed geometry of the resulting nanostructures.

The full paper is available from JCP and arXiv.org.