Hydrophobic Catalysis and a Potential Biological Role of DNA Unstacking Induced by Environmental Effects

Bobo Feng et al.

The main stabilizer of the DNA double helix is not the base-pair hydrogen bonds but coin-pile stacking of base pairs, whose hydrophobic cohesion, requiring abundant water, indirectly makes the DNA interior dry so that hydrogen bonds can exert full recognition power. We report that certain semihydrophobic agents depress the stacking energy (measurable in single-molecule experiments), leading to transiently occurring holes in the base-pair stack (monitorable via binding of threading inter-calators). Similar structures observed in DNA complexes with RecA and Rad51, and previous observations of spontaneous strand exchange catalyzed in semihydrophobic model systems, make us propose that some hydrophobic protein residues may have roles in catalyzing homologous recombination. We speculate that hydrophobic catalysis is a general phenomenon in DNA enzymes.

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