The double-helical structure of DNA results from canonical base-pairing and stacking interactions. However, variations from steady-state conformations result from mechanical perturbations in cells. These different structures have physiological relevance but their dependence on sequence remains unclear. Here, we use molecular dynamics simulations to show that sequence differences result in markedly different structural motifs upon physiological twisting and stretching. We simulate overextension on four different sequences of DNA ((AA)12, (AT)12, (CC)12 and (CG)12) with supercoiling densities within the physiological range. We find that DNA denatures in the majority of stretching simulations, surprisingly including those with overtwisted DNA. GC-rich sequences are observed to be more stable than AT-rich ones, with the specific response dependent on the basepair order. Furthermore, we find that (AT)12 forms stable periodic structures with non-canonical hydrogen bonds in some regions and non-canonical stacking in others, whereas (CG)12 forms a stacking motif of four base pairs independent of supercoiling density. Our results demonstrate that 20-30% DNA extension is sufficient for breaking B-DNA around and significantly above cellular supercoiling, and that the DNA sequence is crucial for understanding structural changes under mechanical stress. Our findings have important implications for the activities of protein machinery interacting with DNA in all cells.
Jack W Shepherd, Robert J Greenall, Matt I J Probert, Agnes Noy, Mark C Leake. “The emergence of sequence-dependent structural motifs in stretched, torsionally constrained DNA” Nucleic Acids Research Advance papers (2019). https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkz1227