Understanding the mechanical response of double-stranded DNA and RNA under constant stretching forces using all-atom molecular dynamics [Biophysics and Computational Biology]
Multiple biological processes involve the stretching of nucleic acids (NAs). Stretching forces induce local changes in the molecule structure, inhibiting or promoting the binding of proteins, which ultimately affects their functionality. Understanding how a force induces changes in the structure of NAs at the atomic level is a challenge. Here, we use all-atom, microsecond-long molecular dynamics to simulate the structure of dsDNA and dsRNA subjected to stretching forces up to 20 pN. We determine all of the elastic constants of dsDNA and dsRNA and provide an explanation for three striking differences in the mechanical response of these two molecules: the threefold softer stretching constant obtained for dsRNA, the opposite twist-stretch coupling, and its nontrivial force dependence. The lower dsRNA stretching resistance is linked to its more open structure, whereas the opposite twist-stretch coupling of both molecules is due to the very different evolution of molecules’ interstrand distance with the stretching force. A reduction of this distance leads to overwinding in dsDNA. In contrast, dsRNA is not able to reduce its interstrand distance and can only elongate by unwinding. Interstrand distance is directly correlated with the slide base-pair parameter and its different behavior in dsDNA and dsRNA traced down to changes in the sugar pucker angle of these NAs.
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