Structural flexibility of the nucleosome core particle at atomic resolution studied by molecular dynamics simulation

Danilo Roccatano, Andre Barthel, Martin Zacharias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Comparative explicit solvent molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have been performed on a complete nucleosome core particle with and without N-terminal histone tails for more than 20 ns. Main purpose of the simulations was to study the dynamics of mobile elements such as histone N-terminal tails and how packing and DNA-bending influences the fine structure and dynamics of DNA. Except for the tails, histone and DNA molecules stayed on average close to the crystallographic start structure supporting the quality of the current force field approach. Despite the packing strain, no increase of transitions to noncanonical nucleic acid backbone conformations compared to regular B-DNA was observed. The pattern of kinks and bends along the DNA remained close to the experiment overall. In addition to the local dynamics, the simulations allowed the analysis of the superhelical mobility indicating a limited relative mobility of DNA segments separated by one superhelical turn (mean relative displacement of approximately ±0.2 nm, mainly along the superhelical axis). An even higher rigidity was found for relative motions (distance fluctuations) of segments separated by half a superhelical turn (approximately ±0.1 nm). The N-terminal tails underwent dramatic conformational rearrangements on the nanosecond time scale toward partially and transiently wrapped states around the DNA. Many of the histone tail changes corresponded to coupled association and folding events from fully solvent-exposed states toward complexes with the major and minor grooves of DNA. The simulations indicate that the rapid conformational changes of the tails can modulate the DNA accessibility within a few nanoseconds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-421
Number of pages15
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA packing
  • DNA structure and dynamics
  • Histone tail motion flexibility
  • Histone-DNA interaction
  • Nucleic acid flexibility
  • Nucleosome dynamics


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