Conformational model of the Holliday junction transition deduced from molecular dynamics simulations

Nucleic Acids Res. 2004 Dec 21;32(22):6683-95. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkh1006. Print 2004.


Homologous recombination plays a key role in the restart of stalled replication forks and in the generation of genetic diversity. During this process, two homologous DNA molecules undergo strand exchange to form a four-way DNA (Holliday) junction. In the presence of metal ions, the Holliday junction folds into the stacked-X structure that has two alternative conformers. Experiments have revealed the spontaneous transitions between these conformers, but their detailed pathways are not known. Here, we report a series of molecular dynamics simulations of the Holliday junction at physiological and elevated (400 K) temperatures. The simulations reveal new tetrahedral intermediates and suggest a schematic framework for conformer transitions. The tetrahedral intermediates bear resemblance to the junction conformation in complex with a junction-resolving enzyme, T7 endonuclease I, and indeed, one intermediate forms a stable complex with the enzyme as demonstrated in one simulation. We also describe free energy minima for various states of the Holliday junction system, which arise during conformer transitions. The results show that magnesium ions stabilize the stacked-X form and destabilize the open and tetrahedral intermediates. Overall, our study provides a detailed dynamic model of the Holliday junction undergoing a conformer transition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Simulation
  • DNA, Cruciform / chemistry*
  • Deoxyribonuclease I / chemistry
  • Hot Temperature
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation


  • DNA, Cruciform
  • Deoxyribonuclease I