Visualization of site-specific labels in long linear or circular DNA allows unambiguous identification of various local DNA structures. Here we describe a novel and efficient approach to site-specific DNA labeling. The restriction enzyme SfiI binds to DNA but leaves it intact in the presence of calcium and therefore may serve as a protein label of 13 bp recognition sites. Since SfiI requires simultaneous interaction with two DNA recognition sites for stable binding, this requirement is satisfied by providing an isolated recognition site in the DNA target and an additional short DNA duplex also containing the recognition site. The SfiI/DNA complexes were visualized with AFM and the specificity of the labeling was confirmed by the length measurements. Using this approach, two sites in plasmid DNA were labeled in the presence of a large excess of the helper duplex to compete with the formation of looped structures of the intramolecular synaptic complex. We show that the labeling procedure does not interfere with the superhelical tension-driven formation of alternative DNA structures such as cruciforms. The complex is relatively stable at low and high pH (pH 5 and 9) making the developed approach attractive for use at conditions requiring the pH change.
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