The Incorporation of Ribonucleotides Induces Structural and Conformational Changes in DNA.


Meroni A, Mentegari E, Crespan E, Muzi-Falconi M, Lazzaro F, Podesta' A.


Biophysical journal 113(7) 1373-1382, 2017

CNR authors




Ribonucleotide incorporation is the most common error occurring during DNA replication. Cells have hence developed mechanisms to remove ribonucleotides from the genome and restore its integrity. Indeed, the persistence of ribonucleotides into DNA leads to severe consequences, such as genome instability and replication stress. Thus, it becomes important to understand the effects of ribonucleotides incorporation, starting from their impact on DNA structure and conformation. Here we present a systematic study of the effects of ribonucleotide incorporation into DNA molecules. We have developed, to our knowledge, a new method to efficiently synthesize long DNA molecules (hundreds of basepairs) containing ribonucleotides, which is based on a modified protocol for the polymerase chain reaction. By means of atomic force microscopy, we could therefore investigate the changes, upon ribonucleotide incorporation, of the structural and conformational properties of numerous DNA populations at the single-molecule level. Specifically, we characterized the scaling of the contour length with the number of basepairs and the scaling of the end-to-end distance with the curvilinear distance, the bending angle distribution, and the persistence length. Our results revealed that ribonucleotides affect DNA structure and conformation on scales that go well beyond the typical dimension of the single ribonucleotide. In particular, the presence of ribonucleotides induces a systematic shortening of the molecules, together with a decrease of the persistence length. Such structural changes are also likely to occur in vivo, where they could directly affect the downstream DNA transactions, as well as interfere with protein binding and recognition.

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