Gel mobilities of linking-number topoisomers and their dependence on DNA helical repeat and elasticity

Biophys Chem. 2010 May;148(1-3):104-11. doi: 10.1016/j.bpc.2010.02.016. Epub 2010 Mar 3.


Agarose-gel electrophoresis has been used for more than thirty years to characterize the linking-number (Lk) distribution of closed-circular DNA molecules. Although the physical basis of this technique remains poorly understood, the gel-electrophoretic behavior of covalently closed DNAs has been used to determine the local unwinding of DNA by proteins and small-molecule ligands, characterize supercoiling-dependent conformational transitions in duplex DNA, and to measure helical-repeat changes due to shifts in temperature and ionic strength. Those results have been analyzed by assuming that the absolute mobility of a particular topoisomer is mainly a function of the integral number of superhelical turns, and thus a slowly varying function of plasmid molecular weight. In examining the mobilities of Lk topoisomers for a series of plasmids that differ incrementally in size over more than one helical turn, we found that the size-dependent agarose-gel mobility of individual topoisomers with identical values of Lk (but different values of the excess linking number, DeltaLk) vary dramatically over a duplex turn. Our results suggest that a simple semi-empirical relationship holds between the electrophoretic mobility of linking-number topoisomers and their average writhe in solution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Superhelical / chemistry*
  • Elasticity*
  • Electrophoresis, Agar Gel
  • Motion*
  • Rotation
  • Stereoisomerism


  • DNA, Superhelical