Mapping the phase diagram of the writhe of DNA nanocircles using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations

Sarah A. Harris*, Charles A. Laughton, Tanniemola B. Liverpool

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


We have investigated the effects of duplex length, sequence, salt concentration and superhelical density on the conformation of DNA nanocircles containing up to 178 base pairs using atomistic molecular dynamics simulation. These calculations reveal that the partitioning of twist and writhe is governed by a delicate balance of competing energetic terms. We have identified conditions which favour circular, positively or negatively writhed and denatured DNA conformations. Our simulations show that AT-rich DNA is more prone to denaturation when subjected to torsional stress than the corresponding GC containing circles. In contrast to the behaviour expected for a simple elastic rod, there is a distinct asymmetry in the behaviour of over and under-wound DNA nanocircles. The most biologically relevant negatively writhed state is more elusive than the corresponding positively writhed conformation, and is only observed for larger circles under conditions of high electrostatic screening. The simulation results have been summarised by plotting a phase diagram describing the various conformational states of nanocircles over the range of circle sizes and experimental conditions explored during the study. The changes in DNA structure that accompany supercoiling suggest a number of mechanisms whereby changes in DNA topology in vivo might be used to influence gene expression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-29
Number of pages9
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008

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