Local DNA bending is a critical factor for numerous DNA functions including recognition of DNA by sequence-specific regulatory binding proteins. Negative DNA supercoiling increases both local and global DNA dynamics, and this dynamic flexibility can facilitate the formation of DNA-protein complexes. We have recently shown that apexes of supercoiled DNA molecules are sites that can promote the formation of an alternative DNA structure, a cruciform, suggesting that these positions in supercoiled DNA are under additional stress and perhaps have a distorted DNA geometry. To test this hypothesis, we used atomic force microscopy to directly measure the curvature of apical positions in supercoiled DNA. The measurements were performed for an inherently curved sequence formed by phased A tracts and a region of mixed sequence DNA. For this, we used plasmids in which an inverted repeat and A tract were placed at precise locations relative to each other. Under specific conditions, the inverted repeat formed a cruciform that was used as a marker for the unambiguous identification of the A tract location. When the A tract and cruciform were placed diametrically opposite, this yielded predominantly nonbranched plectonemic molecules with an extruded cruciform and A tract localized in the terminal loops. For both the curved A tract and mixed sequence nonbent DNA, their localization to an apex increased the angle of bending compared to that expected for DNA unconstrained in solution. This is consistent with increased helical distortion at an apical bend.
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