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Conformational Analysis of DNA-Trinucleotide-Hairpin-Loop Structures Using a Continuum Solvent Model

Biophysical Journal
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0006-3495(01)76205-4
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Design
  • Mathematics


Abstract A number of trinucleotide sequences in DNA can form compact and stable hairpin loops that may have significance for DNA replication and transcription. The conformational analysis of these motifs is important for an understanding of the function and design of nucleic acid structures. Extensive conformational searches have been performed on three experimentally known trinucleotide hairpin loops (AGC, AAA, and GCA) closed by a four-base-pair stem. An implicit solvation model based on the generalized Born method has been employed during energy minimization and conformational search. In addition, energy-minimized conformers were evaluated using a finite-difference Poisson-Boltzmann approach. For all three loop sequences, conformations close to experiment were found as lowest-energy structures among several thousand alternative energy minima. The inclusion of reaction-field contributions was found to be important for a realistic conformer ranking. Most generated hairpin loop structures within ∼5 kcal mol −1 of the lowest-energy structure have a similar topology. Structures within ∼10 kcal mol −1 could be classified into about five structural families representing distinct arrangements of loop nucleotides. Although a large number of backbone torsion angle combinations were compatible with each structural class, some specific patterns could be identified. Harmonic mode analysis was used to account for differences in conformational flexibility of low-energy sub-states. Class-specific differences in the pattern of atomic fluctuations along the sequence were observed; however, inclusion of conformational entropy contributions did not change ranking of structural classes. For an additional loop sequence (AAG) with no available experimental structure, the approach suggests a lowest-energy loop topology overall similar to the other three loop sequences but closed by a different non-canonical base-pairing scheme.

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