In the absence of writhe, DNA relieves torsional stress with localized, sequence-dependent structural failure to preserve B-form

Nucleic Acids Res. 2009 Sep;37(16):5568-77. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkp556. Epub 2009 Jul 8.


To understand how underwinding and overwinding the DNA helix affects its structure, we simulated 19 independent DNA systems with fixed degrees of twist using molecular dynamics in a system that does not allow writhe. Underwinding DNA induced spontaneous, sequence-dependent base flipping and local denaturation, while overwinding DNA induced the formation of Pauling-like DNA (P-DNA). The winding resulted in a bimodal state simultaneously including local structural failure and B-form DNA for both underwinding and extreme overwinding. Our simulations suggest that base flipping and local denaturation may provide a landscape influencing protein recognition of DNA sequence to affect, for examples, replication, transcription and recombination. Additionally, our findings help explain results from single-molecule experiments and demonstrate that elastic rod models are strictly valid on average only for unstressed or overwound DNA up to P-DNA formation. Finally, our data support a model in which base flipping can result from torsional stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Computer Simulation
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Nucleic Acid Denaturation
  • Static Electricity


  • DNA