Analysis of the stability of looped-out and stacked-in conformations of an adenine bulge in DNA using a continuum model for solvent and ions

Martin Zacharias, Heinz Sklenar

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27 Scopus citations


A combination of conformational search, energy minimization, and energetic evaluation using a continuum solvent treatment has been employed to study the stability of various conformations of the DNA fragment d(CGCAGAA)/d(TTCGCG) containing a single adenine bulge. The extra-helical (looped-out) bulge conformation derived from a published x-ray structure and intra-helical (stacked bulge base) model structures partially based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data were used as start structures for the conformational search. Solvent-dependent contributions to the stability of the conformations were calculated from the solvent exposed molecular surface area and by using the finite difference Poisson-Boltzmann approach. Three classes (I-III) of bulge conformations with calculated low energies can be distinguished. The lowest-energy conformations were found in class I, corresponding to structures with the bulge base stacked between flanking helices, and class II, composed of structures forming a triplet of the bulge base and a flanking base pair. All extra-helical bulge structures, forming class III, were found to be less stable compared with the lowest energy structures of class I and II. The results are consistent with NMR data on an adenine bulge in the same sequence context indicating an intra-helical or triplet bulge conformation in solution. Although the total energies and total electrostatic energies of the low-energy conformations show only relatively modest variations, the energetic contributions to the stability were found to vary significantly among the classes of bulge structures. All intra-helical bulge structures are stabilized by a more favorable Coulomb charge-charge interaction but destabilized by a larger electrostatic reaction field contribution compared with ell extra-helical and most triplet bulge structures. Van der Waals packing interactions and nonpolar surface-area- dependent contributions appear to favor triplet class II structures and to a lesser degree also the intra-helical stacked bulge conformations. The large conformational variation found for class III conformers might add a favorable entropic contribution to the stability of the extra-helical bulge form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2990-3003
Number of pages14
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1997
Externally publishedYes


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