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Coarse-grained modelling of strong DNA bending I: Thermodynamics and comparison to an experimental "molecular vice"

Ryan M. Harrison, Flavio Romano, Thomas E. Ouldridge, Ard A. Louis and Jonathan P.K. Doye


DNA bending is biologically important for genome regulation and is relevant to a range of nanotechnological systems. Recent results suggest that sharp bending is much easier than implied by the widely-used worm-like chain model; many of these studies, however, remain controversial. We use a coarse-grained model, previously fitted to DNA's basic thermodynamic and mechanical properties, to explore strongly bent systems. We find that as the end-to-end distance is decreased sufficiently short duplexes undergo a transition to a state in which the bending strain is localized at a flexible kink that involves disruption of base-pairing and stacking. This kinked state, which is not well-described by the worm-like chain model, allows the duplex to more easily be sharply bent. It is not completely flexible, however, due to constraints arising from the connectivity of both DNA backbones. We also perform a detailed comparison to recent experiments on a "molecular vice" that probes highly bent DNA. Close agreement between simulations and experiments strengthens the hypothesis that localised bending via kinking occurs in the molecular vice and causes enhanced flexibility of duplex DNA. Our calculations therefore suggests that the cost of kinking implied by this experiment is consistent with the known thermodynamic and mechanical properties of DNA.

The full paper is available from arXiv.org.