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DNA bending: the prevalence of kinkiness and the virtues of normality.

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  • Biology
  • Design


DNA bending in 86 complexes with sequence-specific proteins has been examined using normal vector plots, matrices of normal vector angles between all base pairs in the helix, and one-digit roll/slide/twist tables. FREEHELIX, a new program especially designed to analyze severely bent and kinked duplexes, generates the foregoing quantities plus local roll, tilt, twist, slide, shift and rise parameters that are completely free of any assumptions about an overall helix axis. In nearly every case, bending results from positive roll at pyrimidine-purine base pair steps: C-A (= T-G), T-A, or less frequently C-G, in a direction that compresses the major groove. Normal vector plots reveal three well-defined types of bending among the 86 examples: (i) localized kinks produced by positive roll at one or two discrete base pairs steps, (ii) three-dimensional writhe resulting from positive roll at a series of adjacent base pairs steps, or (iii) continuous curvature produced by alternations of positive and negative roll every 5 bp, with side-to-side zig-zag roll at intermediate position. In no case is tilt a significant component of the bending process. In sequences with two localized kinks, such as CAP and IHF, the dihedral angle formed by the three helix segments is a linear function of the number of base pair steps between kinks: dihedral angle = 36 degrees x kink separation. Twenty-eight of the 86 examples can be described as major bends, and significant elements in the recognition of a given base sequence by protein. But even the minor bends play a role in fine-tuning protein/DNA interactions. Sequence-dependent helix deformability is an important component of protein/DNA recognition, alongside the more generally recognized patterns of hydrogen bonding. The combination of FREEHELIX, normal vector plots, full vector angle matrices, and one-digit roll/slide/twist tables affords a rapid and convenient method for assessing bending in DNA.


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