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J Phys Chem B. 2016 Jul 7;120(26):6200-7. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.6b02149. Epub 2016 May 26.

DNA Scrunching in the Packaging of Viral Genomes.

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School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology , Atlanta, Georgia 30332, United States.
Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University , New York, New York 10027, United States.
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States.


The motors that drive double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) genomes into viral capsids are among the strongest of all biological motors for which forces have been measured, but it is not known how they generate force. We previously proposed that the DNA is not a passive substrate but that it plays an active role in force generation. This "scrunchworm hypothesis" holds that the motor proteins repeatedly dehydrate and rehydrate the DNA, which then undergoes cyclic shortening and lengthening motions. These are captured by a coupled protein-DNA grip-and-release cycle to rectify the motion and translocate the DNA into the capsid. In this study, we examined the interactions of dsDNA with the dodecameric connector protein of bacteriophage ϕ29, using molecular dynamics simulations on four different DNA sequences, starting from two different conformations (A-DNA and B-DNA). In all four simulations starting with the protein equilibrated with A-DNA in the channel, we observed transitions to a common, metastable, highly scrunched conformation, designated A*. This conformation is very similar to one recently reported by Kumar and Grubmüller in much longer MD simulations on B-DNA docked into the ϕ29 connector. These results are significant for four reasons. First, the scrunched conformations occur spontaneously, without requiring lever-like protein motions often believed to be necessary for DNA translocation. Second, the transition takes place within the connector, providing the location of the putative "dehydrator". Third, the protein has more contacts with one strand of the DNA than with the other; the former was identified in single-molecule laser tweezer experiments as the "load-bearing strand". Finally, the spontaneity of the DNA-protein interaction suggests that it may play a role in the initial docking of DNA in motors like that of T4 that can load and package any sequence.

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