Sample preparation techniques allowing reliable and reproducible imaging of DNA with various structures, topologies and complexes with proteins are reviewed. The major emphasis is given to methods utilizing chemical functionalization of mica, enabling preparation of the surfaces with required characteristics. The methods are illustrated by examples of imaging of different DNA structures. Special attention is given to the possibility of AFM to image the dynamics of DNA at the nanoscale. The capabilities of time-lapse AFM in aqueous solutions are illustrated by imaging of dynamic processes as transitions of local alternative structures (transition of DNA between H and B forms). The application of AFM to studies of protein-DNA complexes is illustrated by a few examples of imaging site-specific complexes, as well as such systems as chromatin. The time-lapse AFM studies of protein-DNA complexes including very recent advances with the use of high-speed AFM are reviewed.
AFM; surface functionalization; silanes; DNA; DNA supercoiling; alternative DNA structures; protein-DNA complexes; single molecule imaging
Dynamics of nucleosomes and their interactions are important for understanding the mechanism of chromatin assembly. Internucleosomal interaction is required for the formation of higher-order chromatin structures. Although H1 histone is critically involved in the process of chromatin assembly, direct internucleosomal interactions contribute to this process as well. To characterize the interactions of nucleosomes within the nucleosome array, we designed a dinucleosome and performed direct AFM imaging. The analysis of the AFM data showed dinucleosomes are very dynamic systems, enabling the nucleosomes to move in a broad range along the DNA template. Di-nucleosomes in close proximity were observed, but their population was low. The use of the zwitterionic detergent, CHAPS, increased the dynamic range of the di-nucleosome, facilitating the formation of tight di-nucleosomes. The role of CHAPS and similar natural products in chromatin structure and dynamics is also discussed.
Misfolding and aggregation of prion proteins is linked to a number of neurodegenerative disorders such as Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD) and its variants: Kuru, Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome and fatal familial insomnia. In prion diseases, infectious particles are proteins that propagate by transmitting a misfolded state of a protein, leading to the formation of aggregates and ultimately to neurodegeneration. Prion phenomenon is not restricted to humans. There are a number of prion-related diseases in a variety of mammals, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as “mad cow disease”) in cattle. All known prion diseases, collectively called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), are untreatable and fatal. Prion proteins were also found in some fungi where they are responsible for heritable traits. Prion proteins in fungi are easily accessible and provide a powerful model for understanding the general principles of prion phenomenon and molecular mechanisms of mammalian prion diseases. Presently, several fundamental questions related to prions remain unanswered. For example, it is not clear how prions cause the disease. Other unknowns include the nature and structure of infectious agent and how prions replicate. Generally, the phenomenon of misfolding of the prion protein into infectious conformations that have the ability to propagate their properties via aggregation is of significant interest. Despite the crucial importance of misfolding and aggregation, very little is currently known about the molecular mechanisms of these processes. While there is an apparent critical need to study molecular mechanisms underlying misfolding and aggregation, the detailed characterization of these single molecule processes is hindered by the limitation of conventional methods. Although some issues remain unresolved, much progress has been recently made primarily due to the application of nanoimaging tools. The use of nanoimaging methods shows great promise for understanding the molecular mechanisms of prion phenomenon, possibly leading toward early diagnosis and effective treatment of these devastating diseases. This review article summarizes recent reports which advanced our understanding of the prion phenomenon through the use of nanoimaging methods.
protein misfolding; prion; atomic force microscopy; nanomedicine; force spectroscopy
Dynamics of nucleosomes and spontaneous unwrapping of DNA are fundamental property of the chromatin enabling access to nucleosomal DNA for regulatory proteins. Probing of such dynamics of nucleosomes performed by single molecule techniques revealed a large scale dynamics of nucleosomes including their spontaneous unwrapping. Dissociation of nucleosomes at low concentrations is a complicating issue for studies with single molecule techniques. In this paper, we tested the ability of 3-[(3-Cholamidopropyl)dimethylammonio]-l-propanesulfonate (CHAPS) to prevent dissociation of nucleosomes. The study was performed with mononucleosome system assembled with human histones H2A, H2B, H3 and H4 on the DNA substrate containing sequence 601 that provides the sequencespecific assembly of nucleosomes. We used Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to directly identify nucleosomes and analyze their structure at the nanometer level. These studies showed that in the presence of CHAPS at millimolar concentrations, nucleosomes, even at sub-nanomolar concentrations, remain intact over days compared to a complete dissociation of the same nucleosome sample over 10 min in the absence of CHAPS. Importantly, CHAPS does not change the conformation of nucleosomes as confirmed by the AFM analysis. Moreover, 16 µM CHAPS stabilizes nucleosomes in over one hour incubation in the solution containing as low as 0.4 nM in nucleosomes. The stability of nucleosomes is slightly reduced at physiological conditions (150 mM NaCl), although the nucleosomes dissociate rapidly at 300 mM NaCl. The sequence specificity of the nucleosome in the presence of CHAPS decreased suggesting that the histone core translocates along the DNA substrate utilizing sliding mechanism.
Chromatin; nucleosome structure; AFM; single molecule analysis; DNA; CHAPS
The dynamics of chromatin provide the access to DNA within nucleosomes and therefore, this process is critically involved into the regulation of chromatin function. However, our knowledge on the large-range dynamics of nucleosomes is limited. The questions, such as the range of opening of the nucleosome, and the mechanism whereby the opening occurs and propagates, remain unknown. Here we applied single molecule time lapse AFM imaging to directly visualize the dynamics of nucleosomes and identify the mechanism of the large range DNA exposure. With this technique, we are able to observe the process of unwrapping of nucleosomes. The unwrapping of nucleosomes proceeds from the ends of the particles, allowing for the unwrapping of DNA regions as large as dozens of base pairs. This process may lead to a complete unfolding of nucleosomes and dissociation of the histone core from the complex. The unwrapping occurs in the absence of proteins involved in the chromatin remodeling that require ATP hydrolysis for their function, suggesting that the inherent dynamics of nucleosomes can contribute to the chromatin unwrapping process. These finding shed a new light to molecular mechanisms of nucleosome dynamics and provide novel hypotheses to the understanding of the action of remodeling proteins as well as other intracellular systems in the chromatin dynamics.
This paper describes protocols for studies of structure and dynamics of DNA and protein-DNA complexes with AFM utilizing the surface chemistry approach. The necessary specifics for the preparation of functionalized surfaces and AFM probes with the use of silanes and silatranes, including the protocols for synthesis of silatranes are provided. The methodology of studies of local and global conformations DNA with the major focus on the time-lapse imaging of DNA in aqueous solutions is illustrated by the study of dynamics of Holliday junctions including branch migration. The analysis of nucleosome dynamics is selected as an example to illustrate the application of the time-lapse AFM to studies of dynamics of protein-DNA complexes. The force spectroscopy is the modality of AFM with a great importance to various fields of biomedical studies. The AFM force spectroscopy approach for studies of specific protein-DNA complexes is illustrated by the data on analysis of dynamics of synaptic SfiI-DNA complexes. When necessary, additional specifics are added to the corresponding example.
Atomic force microscopy (AFM); Force microscopy; DNA dynamics; Local DNA structures; Holliday junctions; DNA–protein interactions; Protein–protein interactions; Single-molecule techniques; Solution time lapse imaging
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a key tool of nanotechnology with great importance in applications to DNA nanotechnology and to the recently emerging field of RNA nanotechnology. Advances in the methodology of AFM now enable reliable and reproducible imaging of DNA of various structures, topologies, and DNA and RNA nanostructures. These advances are reviewed here with emphasis on methods utilizing modification of mica to prepare the surfaces enabling reliable and reproducible imaging of DNA and RNA nanostructures. Since the AFM technology for DNA is more mature, AFM imaging of DNA is introduced in this review to provide experience and background for the improvement of AFM imaging of RNA. Examples of imaging different structures of RNA and DNA are discussed and illustrated. Special attention is given to the potential use of AFM to image the dynamics of nucleic acids at the nanometer scale. As such, we review recent advances with the use of time-lapse AFM.
Atomic force microscopy; AFM; DNA dynamics; DNA nanostructures; Holliday junctions; RNA assembly; RNA nanostructures; High-speed AFM
Alpha-synuclein (α-Syn) is a 140 aa presynaptic protein which belongs to a group of natively unfolded proteins that are unstructured in aqueous solutions. The aggregation rate of α-Syn is accelerated in the presence of physiological levels of cellular polyamines. Here we applied single molecule AFM force spectroscopy to characterize the effect of spermidine on the very first stages of α-Syn aggregation – misfolding and assembly into dimers. Two α-Syn variants, the wild-type (WT) protein and A30P, were studied. The two protein molecules were covalently immobilized at the C-terminus, one at the AFM tip and the other on the substrate, and intermolecular interactions between the two molecules were measured by multiple approach-retraction cycles. At conditions close to physiological ones at which α-Syn misfolding is a rare event, the addition of spermidine leads to a dramatic increase in the propensity of the WT and mutant proteins to misfold. Importantly, misfolding is characterized by a set of conformations, and A30P changes the misfolding pattern as well as the strength of the intermolecular interactions. Together with the fact that spermidine facilitates late stages of α-Syn aggregation, our data demonstrate that spermidine promotes the very early stages of protein aggregation including α-Syn misfolding and dimerization. This finding suggests that increased levels of spermidine and potentially other polyamines can initiate the disease-related process of α-Syn.
Post-translational modifications of histones play important roles in regulating nucleosome structure and gene transcription. It has been shown that biotinylation of histone H4 at lysine-12 in histone H4 (K12Bio-H4) is associated with repression of a number of genes. We hypothesized that biotinylation modifies the physical structure of nucleosomes, and that biotin-induced conformational changes contribute to gene silencing associated with histone biotinylation.
To test this hypothesis we used atomic force microscopy to directly analyze structures of nucleosomes formed with biotin-modified and non-modified H4. The analysis of the AFM images revealed a 13% increase in the length of DNA wrapped around the histone core in nucleosomes with biotinylated H4. This statistically significant (p<0.001) difference between native and biotinylated nucleosomes corresponds to adding approximately 20 bp to the classical 147 bp length of nucleosomal DNA.
The increase in nucleosomal DNA length is predicted to stabilize the association of DNA with histones and therefore to prevent nucleosomes from unwrapping. This provides a mechanistic explanation for the gene silencing associated with K12Bio-H4. The proposed single-molecule AFM approach will be instrumental for studying the effects of various epigenetic modifications of nucleosomes, in addition to biotinylation.
APOBEC3G (A3G) is an antiviral protein that binds RNA and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA). The oligomerization state of A3G is likely to be influenced by these nucleic acid interactions. We applied the power of nanoimaging atomic force microscopy technology to characterize the role of ssDNA in A3G oligomerization. We used recombinant human A3G prepared from HEK-293 cells and specially designed DNA substrates that enable free A3G to be distinguished unambiguously from DNA-bound protein complexes. This DNA substrate can be likened to a molecular ruler because it consists of a 235-bp double-stranded DNA visual tag spliced to a 69-nucleotide ssDNA substrate. This hybrid substrate enabled us to use volume measurements to determine A3G stoichiometry in both free and ssDNA-bound states. We observed that free A3G is primarily monomeric, whereas ssDNA-complexed A3G is mostly dimeric. A3G stoichiometry increased slightly with the addition of Mg2+, but dimers still predominated when Mg2+ was depleted. A His-248/His-250 Zn2+-mediated intermolecular bridge was observed in a catalytic domain crystal structure (Protein Data Bank code 3IR2); however, atomic force microscopy analyses showed that the stoichiometry of the A3G-ssDNA complexes changed insignificantly when these residues were mutated to Ala. We conclude that A3G exchanges between oligomeric forms in solution with monomers predominating and that this equilibrium shifts toward dimerization upon binding ssDNA.
Atomic Force Microscopy; DNA-binding Protein; DNA-Protein Interaction; HIV; Protein-DNA Interaction; Single Molecule Biophysics
The study of protein interactions with DNA is important to gain a fundamental understanding of how numerous biological processes occur, including recombination, transcription, repair, etc. In this study, we use the EcoRII restriction enzyme, which employs a three-site binding mechanism in order to catalyze cleavage of a single recognition site. Using high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) to image single-molecule interactions in real time, we were able to observe binding, translocation, and dissociation mechanisms of the EcoRII protein. The results show that the protein can translocate along DNA to search for the specific binding site. Also, once specifically bound at a single site, the protein is capable of translocating along the DNA to locate the second specific binding site. Furthermore, two alternative modes of dissociation of the EcoRII protein from the loop structure were observed, which result in the protein stably bound as monomers to two sites or bound to a single site as a dimer. From these observations, we propose a model in which this pathway is involved in the formation and dynamics of a catalytically active three-site complex.
To cut DNA at their target sites, restriction enzymes assemble into different oligomeric structures. The Ecl18kI endonuclease in the crystal is arranged as a tetramer made of two dimers each bound to a DNA copy. However, free in solution Ecl18kI is a dimer. To find out whether the Ecl18kI dimer or tetramer represents the functionally important assembly, we generated mutants aimed at disrupting the putative dimer–dimer interface and analysed the functional properties of Ecl18kI and mutant variants. We show by atomic force microscopy that on two-site DNA, Ecl18kI loops out an intervening DNA fragment and forms a tetramer. Using the tethered particle motion technique, we demonstrate that in solution DNA looping is highly dynamic and involves a transient interaction between the two DNA-bound dimers. Furthermore, we show that Ecl18kI cleaves DNA in the synaptic complex much faster than when acting on a single recognition site. Contrary to Ecl18kI, the tetramerization interface mutant R174A binds DNA as a dimer, shows no DNA looping and is virtually inactive. We conclude that Ecl18kI follows the association model for the synaptic complex assembly in which it binds to the target site as a dimer and then associates into a transient tetrameric form to accomplish the cleavage reaction.
The structural organization of the amyloidogenic β-protein containing 40 amino acid residues (Aβ40) was studied by the high temperature molecular dynamics simulations in the acidic (pH ∼ 3) and basic (pH ∼ 8) pH regions. The obtained data suggest that the central Ala21-Gly29 segment of Aβ40 can adopt folded and partially unfolded structures. At the basic pH, this segment forms folded structures stabilized by electrostatic interactions and hydrogen bonds. At the acidic pH, it forms partially unfolded structures. Two other segments flanking to the central segment exhibit the propensity to adopt unstable interconverting α-helical, 310-helical and turn-like structures. One of these segments is comprised of the Ala30-Val36 residues at both of the considered pHs. The second segment is comprised of the Glu11-Phe20 at the basic pH and of the Glu11-Val24 residues at the acidic pHs. The revealed pH-dependent structuration of the Aβ40 allowed us to suggest a possible scenario for initial Aβ aggregation. According to this scenario, the occurrence of the partially unfolded states of the Ala21-Gly29 segment plays main role in the Aβ oligomerization process.
amyloid-β protein; Alzheimer disease; oligomerization; fibril; electrostatic interactions; molecular dynamics simulations
During V(D)J recombination, the site specific DNA excision is dictated by the binding of RAG1/2 proteins to the conserved recombination signal sequence (RSS) within the genome. The interaction between RAG1/2 and RSS is thought to involve a large DNA distortion that is permissive for DNA cleavage. In this study, using atomic force microscopy imaging (AFM), we analyzed individual RAG-RSS complexes, in which the bending angle of RAG-associated RSS substrates could be visualized and quantified. We provided the quantitative measurement on the conformations of specific RAG-12RSS complexes. Previous data indicating the necessity of RAG2 for recombination implies a structural role in the RAG-RSS complex. Surprisingly however, no significant difference was observed in conformational bending with AFM between RAG1-12RSS and RAG1/2-12RSS. RAG1 was found sufficient to induce DNA bending and the addition of RAG2 did not change the bending profile. In addition, a pre-nicked 12RSS bound by RAG1/2 proteins displayed a conformation similar to the one observed with the intact 12RSS, implicating that no greater DNA bending occurs after the nicking step in the signal complex. Taken together, the quantitative AFM results on the components of the recombinase emphasize a tightly held complex with a bend angle value near 60°, which may be a prerequisite step for the site-specific nicking by the V(D)J recombinase.
DNA; V(D)J Recombination; RAG1; RAG2; AFM; DNA bending
SfiI belongs to a family of restriction enzymes that function as tetramers binding two recognition regions for the DNA cleavage reaction. SfiI protein is an attractive and convenient model for studying synaptic complexes between DNA and proteins capable of site specific binding. SfiI enzymatic action has been very well characterized. However, properties of the complex prior to the cleavage reaction are not clear yet. We applied AFM single molecule force spectroscopy to analyze the strength of interactions within the SfiI - DNA complex. In these experiments, the stability of the synaptic complex formed by the enzyme and two DNA duplexes was probed in a series of approach-retraction cycles. In order to do this, one duplex was tethered to the surface and another one to the AFM probe. The complex was formed by the protein present in the solution. An alternative setup in which the protein was anchored to the surface allowed us to probe the stability of the complex formed with one duplex only in the approach-retraction experiments, with the duplex immobilized at the AFM tip. Both types of complexes are characterized by similar rupture forces. The stability of the complex was determined by measuring the dependence of rupture forces on force loading rates (dynamic force spectroscopy - DFS). The DFS data suggest that the dissociation reaction of SfiI-DNA complex has a single energy barrier along the dissociation path. Dynamic force spectroscopy was also instrumental in revealing the role of the 5 base pair spacer region within the palindromic recognition site on DNA-SfiI complex stability. The data show that, although the change of nonspecific sequence does not alter the position of activation barrier, it significantly changes values of the off rates.
synaptic complex; force spectroscopy; protein-DNA interactions; AFM; site-specific recognition
The SfiI restriction enzyme binds to DNA as a tetramer holding two usually distant DNA recognition sites together before a complete cleavage of four DNA strands. To elucidate structural properties of the SfiI-DNA complex, atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging of the complexes under non-cleaving reaction conditions (Ca2+ instead of Mg2+ in the reaction buffer) was performed. Intramolecular complexes formed by the interaction with two binding sites in one DNA molecule (cis interaction) as well as the complexes obtained by the interaction of two sites in different molecules (trans interaction) were analyzed. Complexes were identified unambiguously by the presence of a tall spherical blob at the DNA intersections. To characterize the path of DNA within the complex the angles between the DNA strands at the complex proximity regardless of the complex type were systematically analyzed. All the data show a clear-cut bimodal distributions centered around peak values corresponding to 60° and 120°. To unambiguously distinguish between the crossed and bent models for the DNA orientation within the complex, DNA templates with strands of different lengths and with different locations of the SfiI binding site were designed. The analysis of the AFM images for complexes of this type led to the conclusion that the DNA recognition sites within the complex are crossed. The angles 60° or 120° between the strands corresponds to complex in which one of the strands flipped the orientation relative to another. Both types of complexes for 5 different sequences in the center are present almost equally. This finding suggests that there is no preferential orientation of the DNA cognate site within the complex suggesting that the central part of the DNA binding site does not form strong sequence specific contacts with the protein.
DNA synaptic complexes; protein-DNA interaction; restriction-modification; DNA looping; scanning probe microscopy
Misfolding and self assembly of proteins in nano-aggregates of different sizes and morphologies (nano-ensembles, primarily nanofilaments and nano-rings) is a complex phenomenon that can be facilitated, impeded, or prevented, by interactions with various intracellular metabolites, intracellular nanomachines controlling protein folding and interactions with other proteins. A fundamental understanding of molecular processes leading to misfolding and self-aggregation of proteins involved in various neurodegenerative diseases will provide critical information to help identify appropriate therapeutic routes to control these processes. An elevated propensity of misfolded protein conformation in solution to aggregate with the formation of various morphologies impedes the use of traditional physical chemical approaches for studies of misfolded conformations of proteins. In our recent alternative approach, the protein molecules were tethered to surfaces to prevent aggregation and AFM force spectroscopy was used to probe the interaction between protein molecules depending on their conformations. It was shown that formation of filamentous aggregates is facilitated at pH values corresponding to the maximum of rupture forces. In this paper, a novel surface chemistry was developed for anchoring of amyloid β (Aβ) peptides at their N-terminal moieties. The use of the site specific immobilization procedure allowed to measure the rupture of Aβ - Aβ contacts at single molecule level. The rupture of these contacts is accompanied by the extension of the peptide chain detected by a characteristic elasto-mechanical component of the force-distance curves. Potential applications of the nanomechanical studies to understanding the mechanisms of development of protein misfolding diseases are discussed.
Nanotechnology; amyloids; neurodegenerative diseases; protein aggregation; protein folding; intermolecular forces; AFM; Alzheimer’s disease
Unusual DNA conformations including cruciforms play an important role in gene regulation and various DNA transactions. Cruciforms are also the models for Holliday junctions, the transient DNA conformations critically involved in DNA homologous and site-specific recombination, repair and replication. Although the conformations of immobile Holliday junctions in linear DNA molecules have been analyzed with use of various techniques, the role of DNA supercoiling has not been studied systematically. We utilized Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to visualize cruciform geometry in plasmid DNA with different superhelical densities at various ionic conditions. Both folded and unfolded conformations of the cruciform were identified, and the data showed that DNA supercoiling shifts the equilibrium between folded and unfolded conformations of the cruciform towards the folded one. In topoisomers with low superhelical density the population of folded conformation is 50 to 80 %, depending on ionic strength of the buffer and a type of cation added, whereas in the sample with high superhelical density, this population is as high as 98-100%. The time-lapse studies in aqueous solutions allowed us to observe the conformational transition of the cruciform directly. The time-dependent dynamics of the cruciform correlates with the structural changes revealed by the ensemble-averaged analysis of dry samples. Altogether, the data obtained show directly that DNA supercoiling is the major factor determining the Holliday junction conformation.
Misfolding and aggregation of proteins is a common thread linking a number of important human health problems. The misfolded and aggregated proteins are inducers of cellular stress and activators of immunity in neurodegenerative diseases. They might posses clear cytotoxic properties, being responsible for the dysfunction and loss of cells in the affected organs. Despite the crucial importance of protein misfolding and abnormal interactions, very little is currently known about the molecular mechanism underlying these processes. Factors that lead to protein misfolding and aggregation in vitro are poorly understood, not to mention the complexities involved in the formation of protein nanoparticles with different morphologies (e.g. the nanopores) in vivo. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of misfolding and aggregation might facilitate development of the rational approaches to prevent pathologies mediated by protein misfolding. The conventional tools currently available to researchers can only provide an averaged picture of a living system, whereas much of the subtle or short-lived information is lost. We believe that the existing and emerging nanotools might help solving these problems by opening the entirely novel pathways for the development of early diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. This article summarizes recent advances of the nanoscience in detection and characterization of misfolded protein conformations. Based on these findings we outline our view on the nanoscience development towards identification intracellular nanomachines and/or multicomponent complexes critically involved in protein misfolding.
protein misfolding; protein aggregation; conformational disease; nanomedicine; atomic force microscopy; force spectroscopy; single molecule analyses
Misfolding and self-assembly of proteins in nanoaggregates of different sizes and morphologies (nanoensembles, primary nanofilaments, nanorings, filaments, protofibrils, fibrils, etc.) is a common theme unifying a number of human pathologies termed protein misfolding diseases. Recent studies highlight increasing recognition of the public health importance of protein misfolding diseases, including various neurodegenerative disorders and amyloidoses. It is understood now that the first essential elements in the vast majority of neurodegenerative processes are misfolded and aggregated proteins. Altogether, the accumulation of abnormal protein nanoensembles exerts toxicity by disrupting intracellular transport, overwhelming protein degradation pathways, and/or disturbing vital cell functions. In addition, the formation of inclusion bodies is known to represent a major problem in the production of recombinant therapeutic proteins. Formulation of these therapeutic proteins into delivery systems and their in vivo delivery are often complicated by protein association. Thus, protein folding abnormalities and subsequent events underlie a multitude of human pathologies and difficulties with protein therapeutic applications. The field of medicine therefore can be greatly advanced by establishing a fundamental understanding of key factors leading to misfolding and self-assembly responsible for various protein folding pathologies. This article overviews protein misfolding diseases and outlines some novel and advanced nanotechnologies, including nanoimaging techniques, nanotoolboxes and nanocontainers, complemented by appropriate ensemble techniques, all focused on the ultimate goal to establish etiology and to diagnose, prevent, and cure these devastating disorders.
misfolding; protein aggregation; conformational disease; partially folded intermediate; nanomedicine
Visualization of site-specific labels in long linear or circular DNA allows unambiguous identification of various local DNA structures. Here we describe a novel and efficient approach to site-specific DNA labeling. The restriction enzyme SfiI binds to DNA but leaves it intact in the presence of calcium and therefore may serve as a protein label of 13 bp recognition sites. Since SfiI requires simultaneous interaction with two DNA recognition sites for stable binding, this requirement is satisfied by providing an isolated recognition site in the DNA target and an additional short DNA duplex also containing the recognition site. The SfiI/DNA complexes were visualized with AFM and the specificity of the labeling was confirmed by the length measurements. Using this approach, two sites in plasmid DNA were labeled in the presence of a large excess of the helper duplex to compete with the formation of looped structures of the intramolecular synaptic complex. We show that the labeling procedure does not interfere with the superhelical tension-driven formation of alternative DNA structures such as cruciforms. The complex is relatively stable at low and high pH (pH 5 and 9) making the developed approach attractive for use at conditions requiring the pH change.
Interest to the left-handed DNA conformation has been recently boosted by the findings that a number of proteins contain the Zα domain, which has been shown to specifically recognize Z-DNA. The biological function of Zα is presently unknown, but it has been suggested that it may specifically direct protein regions of Z-DNA induced by negative supercoiling in actively transcribing genes. Many studies, including a crystal structure in complex with Z-DNA, have focused on the human ADAR1 Zα domain in isolation. We have hypothesized that the recognition of a Z-DNA sequence by the ZαADAR1 domain is context specific, occurring under energetic conditions, which favor Z-DNA formation. To test this hypothesis, we have applied atomic force microscopy to image ZαADAR1 complexed with supercoiled plasmid DNAs. We have demonstrated that the ZαADAR1 binds specifically to Z-DNA and preferentially to d(CG)n inserts, which require less energy for Z-DNA induction compared to other sequences. A notable finding is that site-specific Zα binding to d(GC)13 or d(GC)2C(GC)10 inserts is observed when DNA supercoiling is insufficient to induce Z-DNA formation. These results indicate that ZαADAR1 binding facilities the B-to-Z transition and provides additional support to the model that Z-DNA binding proteins may regulate biological processes through structure-specific recognition.
We have previously isolated a stable alternative DNA structure, which was formed in vitro by reassociation of the strands of DNA fragments containing a 62 bp tract of the CA-microsatellite poly(CA)·poly(TG). In the model which was proposed for this structure the double helix is folded into a loop, the base of the loop consists of a DNA junction in which one of the strands of one duplex passes between the two strands of the other duplex, forming a DNA hemicatenane in a hemiknot structure. The hemiknot DNA structures obtained with long CA/TG inserts have been imaged by AFM allowing us to directly visualize the loops.
Here we have analyzed this structure with several different techniques: high-resolution gel electrophoresis, probing by digestion with single stranded DNA-specific nucleases or with DNase I, modification with chemicals specific for unpaired bases, and atomic force microscopy. The data show a change in DNA structure localized to the CA/TG sequence and allow us to better understand the structure of this alternative conformation and the mechanism of its formation.
The present work is in good agreement with the model of hemicatenated DNA loop proposed previously. In the presence of protein HMGB1, shifted reassociation of the strands of DNA fragments containing a tract of the poly(CA)·poly(TG) microsatellite leads to the formation of DNA loops maintained at their base by a hemicatenated junction located within the repetitive sequence. No mobility of the junction along the DNA molecule could be detected under the conditions used. The novel possibility to prepare DNA hemicatenanes should be useful to further study this alternative DNA structure and its involvement in replication or recombination.
The hemiknot, a novel type of DNA structure in which a loop is stabilized by threading one end of the duplex through another, has been studied in this paper. The hemiknot was obtained by reassociation of a DNA fragment with (CA/TG)n inserts of different lengths. Slow and fast migrating products were purified by gel electrophoresis and imaged by atomic force microscopy (AFM) using the aminopropylsilatrane–mica technique for sample preparation. Slow migrating product was characterized by the formation of small blobs for the short insert (60 bp) and clear loops and other morphologies for the long insert (188 bp). These structural features were found in almost 100% of the molecules of the slow migrating sample and were not present in the control sample. Measurements showed that the location of the blobs coincided with the positions of the inserts. The sample with the 188 bp insert in the 573 bp fragment had large structural irregularities. The majority of the molecules (77%) had asymmetrically located loops. The location of the loop in the molecules correlated well with the position of the insert in the fragment. The measured sizes of the loops were in agreement with the insert size. Altogether, these data support the hypothesis for hemiknot formation suggested earlier. In addition to looped structures, other morphologies of the hemiknot were identified in AFM images. Possible models for hemiknot formation and structure are discussed.
We have used atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study the conformation of three-way DNA junctions, intermediates of DNA replication and recombination. Immobile three-way junctions with one hairpin arm (50, 27, 18 and 7 bp long) and two relatively long linear arms were obtained by annealing two partially homologous restriction fragments. Fragments containing inverted repeats of specific length formed hairpins after denaturation. Three-way junctions were obtained by annealing one strand of a fragment from a parental plasmid with one strand of an inverted repeat-containing fragment, purified from gels, and examined by AFM. The molecules are clearly seen as three-armed molecules with one short arm and two flexible long arms. The AFM analysis revealed two important features of three-way DNA junctions. First, three-way junctions are very dynamic structures. This conclusion is supported by a high variability of the inter-arm angle detected on dried samples. The mobility of the junctions was observed directly by imaging the samples in liquid (AFM in situ). Second, measurements of the angle between the arms led to the conclusion that three-way junctions are not flat, but rather pyramid-like. Non-flatness of the junction should be taken into account in analysis of the AFM data.