The circular dichroism properties of calf thymus DNA have been examined at 27° over the wavelength range of 215-300 nm in aqueous solutions of NaCl, KCl, LiCl, CsCl, and NH4Cl at pH 7. The concentrations of these electrolytes were varied from 0.01 to ca. 5-10 m. The spectral changes induced by changes in concentration of NaCl and KCl and all but the highest concentrations of NH4Cl as well as lower concentrations of CsCl and LiCl could be represented by a common two-state transition involving the conversion of the typical conservative spectrum commonly seen in dilute solutions of these salts to a nonconservative spectrum similar to that obtained by Tunis-Schneider and Maestre ((1970), J. Mol. Biol. 52, 521) for the C form of DNA. At higher concentrations of CsCl, LiCl, and NH4Cl, an additional component, resembling an A type spectrum, was required to account for the observed CD changes with changing concentration of electrolyte. Relying on the published spectra of the B, the C, and the A forms of DNA by Tunis-Schneider and Maestre for identification and approximate values of the molecular ellipticities of these forms, we have analyzed these spectral transitions by two least mean squares methods in order to obtain accurate reference spectra of aqueous “B”, C, and “A” conformations of calf thymus DNA. The results obtained suggest that although the C form in solution is identical with that obtained in film, the aqueous B conformational limit is not identical with the crystallographic Watson-Crick structure. In addition, the A form generated in solution under our experimental conditions appears to be more similar to that assumed by low molecular weight Escherichia coli DNA at 75% relative humidity rather than calf thymus DNA at the same relative humidity.
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