Critical assessment of nucleic acid electrostatics via experimental and computational investigation of an unfolded state ensemble.
ABSTRACT: Electrostatic forces, acting between helices and modulated by the presence of the ion atmosphere, are key determinants in the energetic balance that governs RNA folding. Previous studies have employed Poisson-Boltzmann (PB) theory to compute the energetic contribution of these forces in RNA folding. However, the complex interaction of these electrostatic forces with RNA features such as tertiary contact formation, specific ion-binding, and complex interhelical junctions present in prior studies precluded a rigorous evaluation of PB theory, especially in physiologically important Mg(2+) solutions. To critically assess PB theory, we developed a model system that isolates these electrostatic forces. The model system, composed of two DNA duplexes tethered by a polyethylene glycol junction, is an analog for the unfolded state of canonical helix-junction-helix motifs found in virtually all structured RNAs. This model system lacks the complicating features that have precluded a critical assessment of PB in prior studies, ensuring that interhelical electrostatic forces dominate the behavior of the system. The system's simplicity allows PB predictions to be directly compared with small-angle X-ray scattering experiments over a range of monovalent and divalent ion concentrations. These comparisons indicate that PB is a reasonable description of the underlying electrostatic energies for monovalent ions, but large deviations are observed for divalent ions. The validation of PB for monovalent solutions allows analysis of the change in the conformational ensemble of this simple motif as salt concentration is changed. Addition of ions allows the motif to sample more compact microstates, increasing its conformational entropy. The increase of conformational entropy presents an additional barrier to folding by stabilizing the unfolded state. Neglecting this effect will adversely impact the accuracy of folding analyses and models.
Project description:The effect of monovalent ions on both the reactivity and global folding of the 8-17 DNAzyme is investigated, and the results are compared with those of the hammerhead ribozyme, which has similar size and secondary structure. In contrast to the hammerhead ribozyme, the 8-17 DNAzyme activity is not detectable in the presence of 4 M K(+), Rb(+), or Cs(+) or in the presence of 80 mM, [Co(NH(3))(6)](3+). Only 4 M Li(+), NH(4)(+) and, to a lesser extent, Na(+) conferred detectable activity. The observed rate constants (k(obs) approximately 10(-3) min(-1) for Li(+) and NH(4)(+)) are approximately 1000-fold lower than that in the presence of 10 mM Mg(2+), and approximately 200,000-fold slower than that in the presence of 100 microM Pb(2+). Since the hammerhead ribozyme displays monovalent ion-dependent activity that is often within approximately 10-fold of divalent metal ion-dependent activity, these results suggest that the 8-17 DNAzyme, obtained by in vitro selections, has evolved to have a more stringent divalent metal ion requirement for high activity as compared to the naturally occurring ribozymes, making the 8-17 DNAzyme an excellent choice as a Pb(2+) sensor with high selectivity. In contrast to the activity data, folding was observed in the presence of all the monovalent ions investigated, although those monovalent ions that do not support DNAzyme activity have weaker binding affinity (K(d) approximately 0.35 M for Rb(+) and Cs(+)), while those that confer DNAzyme activity possess stronger affinity (K(d) approximately 0.22 M for Li(+), Na(+) and NH(4)(+)). In addition, a correlation between metal ion charge density, binding affinity and enzyme activity was found among mono- and divalent metal ions except Pb(2+); higher charge density resulted in stronger affinity and higher activity, suggesting that the observed folding and activity is at least partially due to electrostatic interactions between ions and the DNAzyme. Finally, circular dichroism (CD) study has revealed Z-DNA formation with the monovalent metal ions, Zn(2+) and Mg(2+); the K(d) values obtained using CD were in the same range as those obtained from folding studies using FRET. However, Z-DNA formation was not observed with Pb(2+). These results indicate that Pb(2+)-dependent function follows a different mechanism from the monovalent metal ions and other divalent metal ions; in the presence of latter metal ions, metal-ion dependent folding and structural changes, including formation of Z-DNA, play an important role in the catalytic function of the 8-17 DNAzyme.
Project description:We distinguish the contribution of the electrostatic environment, initial conformational ensemble, and macromolecular stability on the folding mechanism of a large RNA using a combination of time-resolved "Fast Fenton" hydroxyl radical footprinting and exhaustive kinetic modeling. This integrated approach allows us to define the folding landscape of the L-21 Tetrahymena thermophila group I intron structurally and kinetically from its earliest steps with unprecedented accuracy. Distinct parallel pathways leading the RNA to its native form upon its Mg(2+)-induced folding are observed. The structures of the intermediates populating the pathways are not affected by variation of the concentration and type of background monovalent ions (electrostatic environment) but are altered by a mutation that destabilizes one domain of the ribozyme. Experiments starting from different conformational ensembles but folding under identical conditions show that whereas the electrostatic environment modulates molecular flux through different pathways, the initial conformational ensemble determines the partitioning of the flux. This study showcases a robust approach for the development of kinetic models from collections of local structural probes.
Project description:RNA folding is enabled by interactions between the nucleic acid and its ion atmosphere, the mobile sheath of aqueous ions that surrounds and stabilizes it. Understanding the ion atmosphere requires the interplay of experiment and theory. However, even an apparently simple experiment to probe the ion atmosphere, measuring the dependence of DNA duplex stability upon ion concentration and identity, suffers from substantial complexity, because the unfolded ensemble contains many conformational states that are difficult to treat accurately with theory. To minimize this limitation, we measured the unfolding equilibrium of a DNA hairpin using a single-molecule optical trapping assay, in which the unfolded state is constrained to a limited set of elongated conformations. The unfolding free energy increased linearly with the logarithm of monovalent cation concentration for several cations, such that smaller cations tended to favor the folded state. Mg(2+) stabilized the hairpin much more effectively at low concentrations than did any of the monovalent cations. Poisson-Boltzmann theory captured trends in hairpin stability measured for the monovalent cation titrations with reasonable accuracy, but failed to do so for the Mg(2+) titrations. This finding is consistent with previous work, suggesting that Poisson-Boltzmann and other mean-field theories fail for higher valency cations where ion-ion correlation effects may become significant. The high-resolution data herein, because of the straightforward nature of both the folded and the unfolded states, should serve as benchmarks for the development of more accurate electrostatic theories that will be needed for a more quantitative and predictive understanding of nucleic acid folding.
Project description:The ionic atmospheres around nucleic acids play important roles in biological function. Large-scale explicit solvent simulations coupled to experimental assays such as anomalous small-angle x-ray scattering can provide important insights into the structure and energetics of such atmospheres but are time- and resource intensive. In this article, we use classical density functional theory to explore the balance among ion-DNA, ion-water, and ion-ion interactions in ionic atmospheres of RbCl, SrCl2, and CoHexCl3 (cobalt hexamine chloride) around a B-form DNA molecule. The accuracy of the classical density functional theory calculations was assessed by comparison between simulated and experimental anomalous small-angle x-ray scattering curves, demonstrating that an accurate model should take into account ion-ion correlation and ion hydration forces, DNA topology, and the discrete distribution of charges on the DNA backbone. As expected, these calculations revealed significant differences among monovalent, divalent, and trivalent cation distributions around DNA. Approximately half of the DNA-bound Rb(+) ions penetrate into the minor groove of the DNA and half adsorb on the DNA backbone. The fraction of cations in the minor groove decreases for the larger Sr(2+) ions and becomes zero for CoHex(3+) ions, which all adsorb on the DNA backbone. The distribution of CoHex(3+) ions is mainly determined by Coulomb and steric interactions, while ion-correlation forces play a central role in the monovalent Rb(+) distribution and a combination of ion-correlation and hydration forces affect the Sr(2+) distribution around DNA. This does not imply that correlations in CoHex solutions are weaker or stronger than for other ions. Steric inaccessibility of the grooves to large CoHex ions leads to their binding at the DNA surface. In this binding mode, first-order electrostatic interactions (Coulomb) dominate the overall binding energy as evidenced by low sensitivity of ionic distribution to the presence or absence of second-order electrostatic correlation interactions.
Project description:RNA duplex stability depends strongly on ionic conditions, and inside cells RNAs are exposed to both monovalent and multivalent ions. Despite recent advances, we do not have general methods to quantitatively account for the effects of monovalent and multivalent ions on RNA stability, and the thermodynamic parameters for secondary structure prediction have only been derived at 1M [Na(+)]. Here, by mechanically unfolding and folding a 20 bp RNA hairpin using optical tweezers, we study the RNA thermodynamics and kinetics at different monovalent and mixed monovalent/Mg(2+) salt conditions. We measure the unfolding and folding rupture forces and apply Kramers theory to extract accurate information about the hairpin free energy landscape under tension at a wide range of ionic conditions. We obtain non-specific corrections for the free energy of formation of the RNA hairpin and measure how the distance of the transition state to the folded state changes with force and ionic strength. We experimentally validate the Tightly Bound Ion model and obtain values for the persistence length of ssRNA. Finally, we test the approximate rule by which the non-specific binding affinity of divalent cations at a given concentration is equivalent to that of monovalent cations taken at 100-fold concentration for small molecular constructs.
Project description:RNA molecules cannot fold in the absence of counterions. Experiments are typically performed in the presence of monovalent and divalent cations. How to treat the impact of a solution containing a mixture of both ion types on RNA folding has remained a challenging problem for decades. By exploiting the large concentration difference between divalent and monovalent ions used in experiments, we develop a theory based on the reference interaction site model (RISM), which allows us to treat divalent cations explicitly while keeping the implicit screening effect due to monovalent ions. Our theory captures both the inner shell and outer shell coordination of divalent cations to phosphate groups, which we demonstrate is crucial for an accurate calculation of RNA folding thermodynamics. The RISM theory for ion-phosphate interactions when combined with simulations based on a transferable coarse-grained model allows us to predict accurately the folding of several RNA molecules in a mixture containing monovalent and divalent ions. The calculated folding free energies and ion-preferential coefficients for RNA molecules (pseudoknots, a fragment of the rRNA, and the aptamer domain of the adenine riboswitch) are in excellent agreement with experiments over a wide range of monovalent and divalent ion concentrations. Because the theory is general, it can be readily used to investigate ion and sequence effects on DNA properties.
Project description:The ion atmosphere around nucleic acids critically affects biological and physical processes such as chromosome packing, RNA folding, and molecular recognition. However, the dynamic nature of the ion atmosphere renders it difficult to characterize. The basic thermodynamic description of this atmosphere, a full accounting of the type and number of associated ions, has remained elusive. Here we provide the first complete accounting of the ion atmosphere, using buffer equilibration and atomic emission spectroscopy (BE-AES) to accurately quantitate the cation association and anion depletion. We have examined the influence of ion size and charge on ion occupancy around simple, well-defined DNA molecules. The relative affinity of monovalent and divalent cations correlates inversely with their size. Divalent cations associate preferentially over monovalent cations; e.g., with Na+ in 4-fold excess of Mg2+ (20 vs 5 mM), the ion atmosphere nevertheless has 3-fold more Mg2+ than Na+. Further, the dicationic polyamine putrescine2+ does not compete effectively for association relative to divalent metal ions, presumably because of its lower charge density. These and other BE-AES results can be used to evaluate and guide the improvement of electrostatic treatments. As a first step, we compare the BE-AES results to predictions from the widely used nonlinear Poisson Boltzmann (NLPB) theory and assess the applicability and precision of this theory. In the future, BE-AES in conjunction with improved theoretical models, can be applied to complex binding and folding equilibria of nucleic acids and their complexes, to parse the electrostatic contribution from the overall thermodynamics of important biological processes.
Project description:RNAs are highly negatively charged chain molecules. Metal ions play a crucial role in RNA folding stability and conformational changes. In this work, we employ the recently developed tightly bound ion (TBI) model, which accounts for the correlation between ions and the fluctuation of ion distributions, to investigate the ion-dependent free energy landscape for the three-way RNA junction in a 16S rRNA domain. The predicted electrostatic free energy landscape suggests that 1), ion-mediated electrostatic interactions cause an ensemble of unfolded conformations narrowly populated around the maximally extended structure; and 2), Mg(2+) ion-induced correlation effects help bring the helices to the folded state. Nonelectrostatic interactions, such as noncanonical interactions within the junctions and between junctions and helix stems, might further limit the conformational diversity of the unfolded state, resulting in a more ordered unfolded state than the one predicted from the electrostatic effect. Moreover, the folded state is predominantly stabilized by the coaxial stacking force. The TBI-predicted folding stability agrees well with the experimental measurements for the different Na(+) and Mg(2+) ion concentrations. For Mg(2+) solutions, the TBI model, which accounts for the Mg(2+) ion correlation effect, gives more improved predictions than the Poisson-Boltzmann theory, which tends to underestimate the role of Mg(2+) in stabilizing the folded structure. Detailed control tests indicate that the dominant ion correlation effect comes from the charge-charge Coulombic correlation rather than the size (excluded volume) correlation between the ions. Furthermore, the model gives quantitative predictions for the ion size effect in the folding energy landscape and folding cooperativity.
Project description:Following the addition of ions to trigger folding, RNA molecules undergo a transition from rigid, extended states to a compact ensemble. Determining the time scale for this collapse provides important insights into electrostatic contributions to RNA folding; however, it can be challenging to isolate the effects of purely nonspecific collapse, e.g., relaxation due to backbone charge compensation, from the concurrent formation of some tertiary contacts. To solve this problem, we decoupled nonspecific collapse from tertiary folding using a single-point mutation to eliminate tertiary contacts in the small RNA subdomain known as tP5abc. Microfluidic mixing with microsecond time resolution and Förster resonance energy transfer detection provides insight into the ionic strength-dependent transition from extended to compact ensembles. Differences in reaction rates are detected when folding is initiated by monovalent or divalent ions, consistent with equilibrium measurements illustrating the enhanced screening of divalent ions relative to monovalent ions at the same ionic strength. Ion-driven collapse is fast, and a comparison of the collapse time of the wild-type and mutant tP5abc suggests that site binding of Mg(2+) occurs on submillisecond time scales.
Project description:A continuum model of solvation is proposed to describe (i) long-range electrostatic effects of water exclusion resulting from incomplete and anisotropic hydration in crowded environments and (ii) short-range effects of liquid-structure forces on the hydrogen-bond interactions at solute/water interfaces. The model is an extension of the phenomenological screened coulomb potential-based implicit model of solvation. The developments reported here allow a more realistic representation of highly crowded and spatially heterogeneous environments, such as those in the interior of a living cell. Only the solvent is treated as a continuum medium. It is shown that the electrostatic effects of long-range water-exclusion can strongly affect protein-protein binding energies and are then related to the thermodynamics of complex formation. Hydrogen-bond interactions modulated by the liquid structure at interfaces are calibrated based on systematic calculations of potentials of mean force in explicit water. The electrostatic component of the model is parametrized for monovalent, divalent and trivalent ions. The conceptual and practical aspects of the model are discussed based on simulations of protein complexation and peptide folding. The current implementation is ~1.5 times slower than the gas-phase force field and exhibits good parallel performance.