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Acc Chem Res. 2011 Nov 15;44(11):1172-81. doi: 10.1021/ar200068j. Epub 2011 Jun 30.

Kinetics and dynamics of DNA hybridization.

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  • 1Beijing National Laboratory for Molecular Sciences, Department of Chemical Biology, College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, and Biodynamic Optical Imaging Center, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China.


DNA hybridization, wherein strands of DNA form duplex or larger hybrids through noncovalent, sequence-specific interactions, is one of the most fundamental processes in biology. Developing a better understanding of the kinetic and dynamic properties of DNA hybridization will thus help in the elucidation of molecular mechanisms involved in numerous biochemical processes. Moreover, because DNA hybridization has been widely adapted in biotechnology, its study is invaluable to the development of a range of commercially important processes. In this Account, we examine recent studies of the kinetics and dynamics of DNA hybridization, including (i) intramolecular collision of random coil, single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), (ii) nucleic acid hairpin folding, and (iii) considerations of DNA hybridization from both a global view and a detailed base-by-base view. We also examine the spontaneous single-base-pair flipping in duplex DNA because of its importance to both DNA hybridization and repair. Intramolecular collision of random coil ssDNA, with chemical relaxation times ranging from hundreds of nanoseconds to a few microseconds, is investigated both theoretically and experimentally. The first passage time theory of Szabo, Schulten, and Schulten, which determines the average reaction time of the intrachain collision, was tested. Although it was found to provide an acceptable approximation, a more sophisticated theoretical treatment is desirable. Nucleic acid hairpin folding has been extensively investigated as an important model system of DNA hybridization. The relaxation time of hairpin folding and unfolding strongly depends on the stem length, and it may range from hundreds of microseconds to hundreds of milliseconds. The traditional two-state model has been revised to a multistate model as a result of new experimental observations and theoretical study, and partially folded intermediate states have been introduced to the folding energy landscape. On the other hand, new techniques are needed to provide more accurate and detailed information on the dynamics of DNA hairpin folding in the time domain of sub-milliseconds to tens of milliseconds. From a global view, the hybridization of unstructured ssDNA goes through an entropy-controlled nucleation step, whereas the hybridization of ssDNA with a hairpin structure must overcome an extra, enthalpy-controlled energy barrier to eliminate the hairpin. From a detailed base-by-base view, however, there exist many intermediate states. The average single-base-pair hybridization and dehybridization rates in a duplex DNA formation have been determined to be on the order of a millisecond. Meanwhile, accurate information on the early stages of hybridization, such as the dynamics of nucleation, is still lacking. The investigation of spontaneous flipping of a single base in a mismatched base pair in a duplex DNA, although very important, has only recently been initiated because of the earlier lack of suitable probing tools. In sum, the study of DNA hybridization offers a rich range of research opportunities; recent progress is highlighting areas that are ripe for more detailed investigation.

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