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Science. 1996 Feb 9;271(5250):778-84.

Intercalation, DNA kinking, and the control of transcription.

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Laboratory of Chemical Physics, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-0520, USA.


Biological processes involved in the control and regulation of transcription are dependent on protein-induced distortions in DNA structure that enhance the recruitment of proteins to their specific DNA targets. This function is often accomplished by accessory factors that bind sequence specifically and locally bend or kink the DNA. The recent determination of the three-dimensional structures of several protein-DNA complexes, involving proteins that perform such architectural tasks, brings to light a common theme of side chain intercalation as a mechanism capable of driving the deformation of the DNA helix. The protein scaffolds orienting the intercalating side chain (or side chains) are structurally diverse, presently comprising four distinct topologies that can accomplish the same task. The intercalating side chain (or side chains), however, is exclusively hydrophobic. Intercalation can either kink or bend the DNA, unstacking one or more adjacent base pairs and locally unwinding the DNA over as much as a full turn of helix. Despite these distortions, the return to B-DNA helical parameters generally occurs within the adjacent half-turns of DNA.

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