Application of differential scanning calorimetry to measure the differential binding of ions, water and protons in the unfolding of DNA molecules

Chris M. Olsen, Ronald Shikiya, Rajkumar Ganugula, Calliste Reiling-Steffensmeier, Irine Khutsishvili, Sarah E. Johnson, Luis A. Marky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background The overall stability of DNA molecules globally depends on base-pair stacking, base-pairing, polyelectrolyte effect and hydration contributions. In order to understand how they carry out their biological roles, it is essential to have a complete physical description of how the folding of nucleic acids takes place, including their ion and water binding. Scope of review To investigate the role of ions, water and protons in the stability and melting behavior of DNA structures, we report here an experimental approach i.e., mainly differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), to determine linking numbers: The differential binding of ions (Δnion), water (ΔnW) and protons (ΔnH+) in the helix-coil transition of DNA molecules. General significance We use DSC and temperature-dependent UV spectroscopic techniques to measure the differential binding of ions, water, and protons for the unfolding of a variety of DNA molecules: Salmon testes DNA (ST-DNA), one dodecamer, one undecamer and one decamer duplexes, nine hairpin loops, and two triplexes. These methods can be applied to any conformational transition of a biomolecule. Major conclusions We determined complete thermodynamic profiles, including all three linking numbers, for the unfolding of each molecule. The favorable folding of a DNA helix results from a favorable enthalpy-unfavorable entropy compensation. DSC thermograms and UV melts as a function of salt, osmolyte and proton concentrations yielded releases of ions and water. Therefore, the favorable folding of each DNA molecule results from the formation of base-pair stacks and uptake of both counterions and water molecules. In addition, the triplex with C+GC base triplets yielded an uptake of protons. Furthermore, the folding of a DNA duplex is accompanied by a lower uptake of ions and a similar uptake of four water molecules as the DNA helix gets shorter. In addition, the oligomer duplexes and hairpin thermodynamic data suggest ion and water binding depends on the DNA sequence rather than DNA composition. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Microcalorimetry in the BioSciences - Principles and Applications, edited by Fadi Bou-Abdallah.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)990-998
Number of pages9
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - General Subjects
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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