Efficient search on energy minima for structure prediction of nucleic acid motifs

Gilberto Villescas-Diaz, Martin Zacharias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Structure prediction of non-canonical motifs such as mismatches, extra unmatched nucleotides or internal and hairpin loop structures in nucleic acids is of great importance for understanding the function and design of nucleic acid structures. Systematic conformational analysis of such motifs typically involves the generation of many possible combinations of backbone dihedral torsion angles for a given motif and subsequent energy minimization (EM) and evaluation. Such approach is limited due to the number of dihedral angle combinations that grows very rapidly with the size of the motif. Two conformational search approaches have been developed that allow both an effective crossing of barriers during con-formational searches and the computational demand grows much less with system size then search methods that explore all combinations of backbone dihedral torsion angles. In the first search protocol single torsion angles are flipped into favorable states using constraint EM and subsequent relaxation without constraints. The approach is repeated in an iterative manner along the backbone of the structural motif until no further energy improvement is obtained. In case of two test systems, a DNA-trinucleotide loop (sequence: GCA) and a RNA tetraloop (sequence: UUCG), the approach successfully identified low energy states close to experiment for two out of five start structures. In the second method randomly selected combinations of up to six backbone torsion angles are simultaneously flipped into preset ranges by a short constraint EM followed by unconstraint EM and acceptance according to a Metropolis acceptance criterion. This combined stochastic/EM search was even more effective than the single torsion flip approach and selected low energy states for the two test cases in between two and four cases out of five start structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-364
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Conformational search
  • Generalized Born model
  • Nucleic acid energetics
  • Nucleic acid structural motifs


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