Modified Amber Force Field Correctly Models the Conformational Preference for Tandem GA pairs in RNA

J Chem Theory Comput. 2014 Mar 11;10(3):1292-1301. doi: 10.1021/ct400861g. Epub 2014 Jan 22.


Molecular mechanics with all-atom models was used to understand the conformational preference of tandem guanine-adenine (GA) noncanonical pairs in RNA. These tandem GA pairs play important roles in determining stability, flexibility, and structural dynamics of RNA tertiary structures. Previous solution structures showed that these tandem GA pairs adopt either imino (cis Watson-Crick/Watson-Crick A-G) or sheared (trans Hoogsteen/sugar edge A-G) conformations depending on the sequence and orientation of the adjacent closing base pairs. The solution structures (GCGGACGC)2 [Biochemistry, 1996, 35, 9677-9689] and (GCGGAUGC)2 [Biochemistry, 2007, 46, 1511-1522] demonstrate imino and sheared conformations for the two central GA pairs, respectively. These systems were studied using molecular dynamics and free energy change calculations for conformational changes, using umbrella sampling. For the structures to maintain their native conformations during molecular dynamics simulations, a modification to the standard Amber ff10 force field was required, which allowed the amino group of guanine to leave the plane of the base [J. Chem. Theory Comput., 2009, 5, 2088-2100] and form out-of-plane hydrogen bonds with a cross-strand cytosine or uracil. The requirement for this modification suggests the importance of out-of-plane hydrogen bonds in stabilizing the native structures. Free energy change calculations for each sequence demonstrated the correct conformational preference when the force field modification was used, but the extent of the preference is underestimated.

Grant support

National Institutes of Health, United States