B-DNA twisting correlates with base-pair morphology

J Mol Biol. 1995 Mar 17;247(1):34-48. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1994.0120.


The observed sequence dependence of the mean twist angles in 38 B-DNA crystal structures can be understood in terms of simple geometrical features of the constituent base-pairs. Structures with low twist appear to unwind in response to severe steric clashes of large exocyclic groups (such as NH2-NH2) in the major and minor grooves, while those with high twist are subjected to lesser contacts (H-O and H-H). We offer a simple clash function that depends on base-pair morphology (i.e. the chemical constitution of base-pairs) and satisfactorily accounts for the twist angles of the ten common Watson-Crick dimer steps both in the solid state and in solution. The twist-clash correlation that we find here still holds when extended to modified bases. In addition to Calladine's purine-purine clashes, we add other close contacts between bases in the grooves, and consider the conformational restrictions on the geometry of the sugar-phosphate backbone (namely, we emphasize the tendency of DNA to conserve virtual backbone length). The significance of this finding is threefold: (1) sequence-dependent DNA twisting is directly involved in protein-DNA interactions; (2) strong correlation between Twist and Roll helps to elucidate the bending of the double helix as a function of base sequence; (3) it is possible to anticipate the effects of chemical modifications on twisting and bending. The mutual correlations of other structural parameters with the twist make this angle a primary determinant of DNA conformational heterogeneity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / ultrastructure*
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Models, Structural
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • Solutions


  • Solutions
  • DNA