Generation of supercoils in nicked and gapped DNA drives DNA unknotting and postreplicative decatenation

Nucleic Acids Res. 2015 Sep 3;43(15):7229-36. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkv683. Epub 2015 Jul 6.


Due to the helical structure of DNA the process of DNA replication is topologically complex. Freshly replicated DNA molecules are catenated with each other and are frequently knotted. For proper functioning of DNA it is necessary to remove all of these entanglements. This is done by DNA topoisomerases that pass DNA segments through each other. However, it has been a riddle how DNA topoisomerases select the sites of their action. In highly crowded DNA in living cells random passages between contacting segments would only increase the extent of entanglement. Using molecular dynamics simulations we observed that in actively supercoiled DNA molecules the entanglements resulting from DNA knotting or catenation spontaneously approach sites of nicks and gaps in the DNA. Type I topoisomerases, that preferentially act at sites of nick and gaps, are thus naturally provided with DNA-DNA juxtapositions where a passage results in an error-free DNA unknotting or DNA decatenation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA Replication
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I / metabolism
  • DNA, Catenated / chemistry*
  • DNA, Catenated / metabolism
  • DNA, Circular / chemistry
  • DNA, Superhelical / chemistry*
  • DNA, Superhelical / metabolism
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation


  • DNA, Catenated
  • DNA, Circular
  • DNA, Superhelical
  • DNA
  • DNA Topoisomerases, Type I