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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35558. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035558. Epub 2012 Apr 17.

The role of methylation in the intrinsic dynamics of B- and Z-DNA.

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  • 1In Silico Research Centers of Excellence, Advanced Biomedical Computing Center, Information Systems Program, SAIC-Frederick Inc, Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, Frederick, Maryland, United States of America.


Methylation of cytosine at the 5-carbon position (5 mC) is observed in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. In humans, DNA methylation at CpG sites plays an important role in gene regulation and has been implicated in development, gene silencing, and cancer. In addition, the CpG dinucleotide is a known hot spot for pathologic mutations genome-wide. CpG tracts may adopt left-handed Z-DNA conformations, which have also been implicated in gene regulation and genomic instability. Methylation facilitates this B-Z transition but the underlying mechanism remains unclear. Herein, four structural models of the dinucleotide d(GC)(5) repeat sequence in B-, methylated B-, Z-, and methylated Z-DNA forms were constructed and an aggregate 100 nanoseconds of molecular dynamics simulations in explicit solvent under physiological conditions was performed for each model. Both unmethylated and methylated B-DNA were found to be more flexible than Z-DNA. However, methylation significantly destabilized the BII, relative to the BI, state through the Gp5mC steps. In addition, methylation decreased the free energy difference between B- and Z-DNA. Comparisons of α/γ backbone torsional angles showed that torsional states changed marginally upon methylation for B-DNA, and Z-DNA. Methylation-induced conformational changes and lower energy differences may contribute to the transition to Z-DNA by methylated, over unmethylated, B-DNA and may be a contributing factor to biological function.

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