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J Mol Biol. 1990 Jun 20;213(4):931-51.

Structure of plectonemically supercoiled DNA.

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Department of Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


Using electron microscopy and topological methods, we have deduced an average structure for negatively supercoiled circular DNA in solution. Our data suggest that DNA has a branched plectonemic (interwound) form over the range of supercoiling tested. The length of the superhelix axis is constant at 41% of the DNA length, whereas the superhelix radius decreases essentially hyperbolically as supercoiling increases. The number of supercoils is 89% of the linking deficit. Both writhe and twist change with supercoiling, but the ratio of the change in writhe to the change in twist is fixed at 2.6:1. The extent of branching of the superhelix axis is proportional to the length of the plasmid, but is insensitive to superhelix density. The relationship between DNA flexibility constants for twisting and bending calculated using our structural data is similar to that deduced from previous studies. The extended thin form of plectonemically supercoiled DNA offers little compaction for cellular packaging, but promotes interaction between cis-acting sequence elements that may be distant in primary structure. We discuss additional biological implications of our structural data.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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