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Biophys J. 2000 Aug;79(2):601-13.

A theoretical model for the prediction of sequence-dependent nucleosome thermodynamic stability.

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Dipartimento di Chimica, Istituto Pasteur, Fondazione Cenci Bolognetti, Università degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza, I-00185 Rome, Italy.


A theoretical model for predicting nucleosome thermodynamic stability in terms of DNA sequence is advanced. The model is based on a statistical mechanical approach, which allows the calculation of the canonical ensemble free energy involved in the competitive nucleosome reconstitution. It is based on the hypothesis that nucleosome stability mainly depends on the bending and twisting elastic energy to transform the DNA intrinsic superstructure into the nucleosomal structure. The ensemble average free energy is calculated starting from the intrinsic curvature, obtained by integrating the dinucleotide step deviations from the canonical B-DNA and expressed in terms of a Fourier series, in the framework of first-order elasticity. The sequence-dependent DNA flexibility is evaluated from the differential double helix thermodynamic stability. A large number of free-energy experimental data, obtained in different laboratories by competitive nucleosome reconstitution assays, are successfully compared to the theoretical results. They support the hypothesis that the stacking energies are the major factor in DNA rigidity and could be a measure of DNA stiffness. A dual role of DNA intrinsic curvature and flexibility emerges in the determination of nucleosome stability. The difference between the experimental and theoretical (elastic) nucleosome-reconstitution free energy for the whole pool of investigated DNAs suggests a significant role for the curvature-dependent DNA hydration and counterion interactions, which appear to destabilize nucleosomes in highly curved DNAs. This model represents an attempt to clarify the main features of the nucleosome thermodynamic stability in terms of physical-chemical parameters and suggests that in molecular systems with a large degree of complexity, the average molecular properties dominate over the local features, as in a statistical ensemble.

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