A-tract Bending:
Insights into Experimental Structures by Computational Models

While solution structures of adenine tract (A-tract) oligomers have indicated a unique bend direction equivalent to negative global roll (commonly termed ``minor-groove bending''), crystallographic data have not unambiguously characterized the bend direction; nevertheless, many features are shared by all A-tract crystal and solution structures (e.g., propeller twisting, narrow minor grooves, and localized water spines). To examine the origin of bending and to relate findings to the crystallographic and solution data, we analyze molecular dynamics trajectories of two solvated A-tract dodecamers: 1D89, d(CGCGA6CG), and 1D98, d(CGCA6GCG), using a new general global bending framework for analyzing bent DNA and DNA/protein complexes. It is significant that the crystallographically-based initial structures are converted from dissimilar to similar bend directions equivalent to negative global roll, with the average helical-axis bend ranging from 10.5 º to 14.1 º. The largest bend occurs as positive roll of 12 º on the 5' side of the A-tracts (supporting a junction model) and is reinforced by gradual curvature at each A-tract base-pair (bp) step (supporting a wedge model). The precise magnitude of the bend is subtly sequence dependent (consistent with a curved general sequence model). The conversion to negative global roll only requires small local changes at each bp, accumulated over flexible moieties both outside and inside the A-tract. In contrast, the control sequence 1BNA, d(CGCGA2)TTCGCG), bends marginally (only 6.9 º) with no preferred direction. The molecular features that stabilize the bend direction in the A-tract dodecamers include propeller twisting of AT base-pairs, puckering differences between A and T deoxyriboses, a narrow minor groove, and a stable water spine (that extends slightly beyond the A-tract, with lifetimes approaching 0.2 nanoseconds). The sugar-conformations, in particular, are proposed as important factors that support bent DNA. It is significant that all these curvature-stabilizing features are also observed in the crystallographic structures, but yield overall different bending paths, largely due to the effects of sequences outside the A-tract. These results merge structural details reported for A-tract structures by experiment and theory and lead to structural and dynamic insights into sequence-dependent DNA flexibility, as highlighted by the effect of an A-tract variant of a TATA-box element on bending and flexibility required for TBP binding.

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