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Biochemistry. 2004 Nov 23;43(46):14744-58.

Preferential interactions of glycine betaine and of urea with DNA: implications for DNA hydration and for effects of these solutes on DNA stability.

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Department of Biochemistry, Program in Biophysics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Interactions of the solutes glycine betaine (GB) and urea with mononucleosomal calf thymus DNA in aqueous salt solutions are characterized by vapor pressure osmometry (VPO). Analysis of osmolality as a function of solute and DNA concentration yields the effect of the solute on the chemical potential, mu(2), of the DNA. Although both GB and urea generally are nucleic acid denaturants and therefore must interact favorably with the nucleic acid surface exposed upon melting, VPO demonstrates that neither interacts favorably with duplex DNA. Addition of GB greatly increases mu(2) of DNA, indicating that the average local concentration of GB in the vicinity of the double helix is much less than its bulk concentration. By contrast, addition of urea has almost no effect on mu(2) of duplex DNA, indicating that the average local concentration of urea in the vicinity of duplex DNA is almost the same as in bulk solution. Qualitatively, we conclude that the nonuniform distribution of GB occurs primarily because duplex DNA and GB prefer to interact with water rather than with each other. Comparison with thermodynamic data for the interaction of GB with various protein surfaces (Felitsky et al., Biochemistry, 43, 14732-14743) shows that GB is excluded primarily from anionic DNA surface and that the hydration of anionic DNA phosphate oxygen surface (>or approximately 17 H(2)O per nucleotide or >or approximately 0.22 H(2)O A(-)(2)) involves at least two layers of water. From analysis of literature data for effects of urea and of GB on DNA melting, we propose that urea is an effective nonspecific nucleic acid denaturant because of its favorable interactions with the polar amide-like surface of G, C, and especially T or U bases exposed in denaturation, whereas GB is a specific GC denaturant because of its favorable interaction with G and/or C surface in the single-stranded state.

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