Nearest-Neighbor dsDNA Stability Analysis Using Alchemical Free-Energy Simulations

Manuel Rieger, Martin Zacharias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The thermodynamic stability of double-stranded (ds)DNA depends on its sequence. It is influenced by the base pairing and stacking with neighboring bases along DNA molecules. Semiempirical schemes are available that allow us to predict the thermodynamic stability of DNA sequences based on empirically derived nearest-neighbor contributions of base pairs formed in the context of all possible nearest-neighbor base pairs. Current molecular dynamics (MD) simulations allow one to simulate the dynamics of DNA molecules in good agreement with experimentally obtained structures and available data on conformational flexibility. However, the suitability of current force field methods to reproduce dsDNA stability and its sequence dependence has been much less well tested. We have employed alchemical free-energy simulations of whole base pair transversions in dsDNA and in unbound single-stranded partner molecules. Such transversions change the sequence context but not the nucleotide content or base pairing in dsDNA and allow a direct comparison with the empirical nearest-neighbor dsDNA stability model. For the alchemical free-energy changes in the unbound single-stranded (ss)DNA partner molecules, we tested different setups assuming either complete unstacking or unrestrained simulations with partial stacking in the unbound ssDNA. The free-energy simulations predicted nearest-neighbor effects of similar magnitude, as observed experimentally but showed overall limited correlation with experimental data. An inaccurate description of stacking interactions and other possible reasons such as the neglect of electronic polarization effects are discussed. The results indicate the need to improve the realistic description of stacking interactions in current molecular mechanic force fields.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3640-3647
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number20
StatePublished - 26 May 2022
Externally publishedYes


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