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1.  Theoretical Analysis of the Stress Induced B-Z Transition in Superhelical DNA 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(1):e1001051.
We present a method to calculate the propensities of regions within a DNA molecule to transition from B-form to Z-form under negative superhelical stresses. We use statistical mechanics to analyze the competition that occurs among all susceptible Z-forming regions at thermodynamic equilibrium in a superhelically stressed DNA of specified sequence. This method, which we call SIBZ, is similar to the SIDD algorithm that was previously developed to analyze superhelical duplex destabilization. A state of the system is determined by assigning to each base pair either the B- or the Z-conformation, accounting for the dinucleotide repeat unit of Z-DNA. The free energy of a state is comprised of the nucleation energy, the sequence-dependent B-Z transition energy, and the energy associated with the residual superhelicity remaining after the change of twist due to transition. Using this information, SIBZ calculates the equilibrium B-Z transition probability of each base pair in the sequence. This can be done at any physiologically reasonable level of negative superhelicity. We use SIBZ to analyze a variety of representative genomic DNA sequences. We show that the dominant Z-DNA forming regions in a sequence can compete in highly complex ways as the superhelicity level changes. Despite having no tunable parameters, the predictions of SIBZ agree precisely with experimental results, both for the onset of transition in plasmids containing introduced Z-forming sequences and for the locations of Z-forming regions in genomic sequences. We calculate the transition profiles of 5 kb regions taken from each of 12,841 mouse genes and centered on the transcription start site (TSS). We find a substantial increase in the frequency of Z-forming regions immediately upstream from the TSS. The approach developed here has the potential to illuminate the occurrence of Z-form regions in vivo, and the possible roles this transition may play in biological processes.
Author Summary
We present the SIBZ algorithm that calculates the equilibrium properties of the transition from right-handed B-form to left-handed Z-form in a DNA sequence that is subjected to imposed stresses. SIBZ calculates the probability of transition of each base pair in a user-defined sequence. By examining illustrative examples, we show that the transition behaviors of all Z-susceptible regions in a sequence are coupled together by the imposed stresses. We show that the results produced by SIBZ agree closely with experimental observations of both the onset of transitions and the locations of Z-form sites in molecules of specified sequence. By analyzing 12,841 mouse genes, we show that sites susceptible to the B-Z transition cluster upstream from gene start sites. As this is where stresses generated by transcription accumulate, these sites may actually experience this transition when the genes involved are being expressed. This suggests that these transitions may serve regulatory functions.
PMCID: PMC3024258  PMID: 21283778

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