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EMBO J. Oct 1986; 5(10): 2737–2744.
PMCID: PMC1167176

A computer aided thermodynamic approach for predicting the formation of Z-DNA in naturally occurring sequences.


The ease with which a particular DNA segment adopts the left-handed Z-conformation depends largely on the sequence and on the degree of negative supercoiling to which it is subjected. We describe a computer program (Z-hunt) that is designed to search long sequences of naturally occurring DNA and retrieve those nucleotide combinations of up to 24 bp in length which show a strong propensity for Z-DNA formation. Incorporated into Z-hunt is a statistical mechanical model based on empirically determined energetic parameters for the B to Z transition accumulated to date. The Z-forming potential of a sequence is assessed by ranking its behavior as a function of negative superhelicity relative to the behavior of similar sized randomly generated nucleotide sequences assembled from over 80,000 combinations. The program makes it possible to compare directly the Z-forming potential of sequences with different base compositions and different sequence lengths. Using Z-hunt, we have analyzed the DNA sequences of the bacteriophage phi X174, plasmid pBR322, the animal virus SV40 and the replicative form of the eukaryotic adenovirus-2. The results are compared with those previously obtained by others from experiments designed to locate Z-DNA forming regions in these sequences using probes which show specificity for the left-handed DNA conformation.

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Selected References

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