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Biophys J. 2002 Jun;82(6):3160-9.

Salt dependence of the elasticity and overstretching transition of single DNA molecules.

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Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA.


As double-stranded DNA is stretched to its B-form contour length, models of polymer elasticity can describe the dramatic increase in measured force. When the molecule is stretched beyond this contour length, it shows a highly cooperative overstretching transition. We have measured the elasticity and overstretching transition as a function of monovalent salt concentration by stretching single DNA molecules in an optical tweezers apparatus. As the sodium ion concentration was decreased from 1000 to 2.57 mM, the persistence length of DNA increased from 46 to 59 nm, while the elastic stretch modulus remained approximately constant. These results are consistent with the model of Podgornik, et al. (2000, J. Chem. Phys. 113:9343-9350) using an effective DNA length per charge of 0.67 nm. As the monovalent salt concentration was decreased over the same range, the overstretching transition force decreased from 68 to 52 pN. This reduction in force is attributed to a decrease in the stability of the DNA double helix with decreasing salt concentration. Although, as was shown previously, the hydrogen bonds holding DNA strands in a helical conformation break as DNA is overstretched, these data indicate that both DNA strands remain close together during the transition.

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