Sunday, March 30, 2008

Alternative double-helical structures

Further information: Mechanical properties of DNA

DNA exists in many possible conformations.[8] However, only A-DNA, B-DNA, and Z-DNA have been observed in organisms. Which conformation DNA adopts depends on the sequence of the DNA, the amount and direction of supercoiling, chemical modifications of the bases and also solution conditions, such as the concentration of metal ions and polyamines.[25] Of these three conformations, the "B" form described above is most common under the conditions found in cells.[26] The two alternative double-helical forms of DNA differ in their geometry and dimensions.

The A form is a wider right-handed spiral, with a shallow, wide minor groove and a narrower, deeper major groove. The A form occurs under non-physiological conditions in dehydrated samples of DNA, while in the cell it may be produced in hybrid pairings of DNA and RNA strands, as well as in enzyme-DNA complexes.[27][28] Segments of DNA where the bases have been chemically-modified by methylation may undergo a larger change in conformation and adopt the Z form. Here, the strands turn about the helical axis in a left-handed spiral, the opposite of the more common B form.[29] These unusual structures can be recognized by specific Z-DNA binding proteins and may be involved in the regulation of transcription.[30]

From left to right, the structures of A, B and Z DNA
From left to right, the structures of A, B and Z DNA

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