Structural Transitions of Deoxyribonucleic Acid in Aqueous Electrolyte Solutions. II. The Role of Hydration

Barry Wolf, Sue Hanlon

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The data and approach reported in paper I (Hanlon et al., 1975, preceding paper) have been used to calculate the fractional changes in secondary structure of calf thymus deoxyribonucleic acid which occur in aqueous solutions as a function of the concentration of NaCl, KCl, LiCI, CsCl, and NH4Cl. There is a continuous loss in the “B” character of the nucleic acid with concomitant production of the C and, in some instances, an A form, as well, as the salt concentration increases. Sedimentation velocity studies suggest that there is an accompanying change in the hydrodynamic characteristics of the DNA molecules, as well. Utilizing the existing hydration data in the literature (Hearst and Vinograd, 1961a,b; Hearst, 1965; Tunis and Hearst, 1968a; Cohen and Eisenberg, 1968; Falk et al., 1962, 1963a,b), we have found that a gradual loss of “B” character and a decrease in the frictional coefficient of DNA occur as the net hydration of DNA is reduced from the fully hydrated form (60-80 mol of H2O/mol of nucleotide) to values of ca. 12-14 mol of H2O/mol of nucleotide. Below that value, a more precipitous decrease in these properties occurs. Extrapolation of the linear relationship observed between the fractional B content and the net hydration in the latter regions yield values of ca. 18 mol of H2O/mol of nucleotide at 100% B and ca. 4 mol of H2O/mol of nucleotide at 0% B (i.e., 100% C or C + A) for the alkali metal salts of DNA. The ammonium salt retains somewhat more H2O in the C and A forms (ca. 7). These results together with the hydration site assignments of Falk et al. (1962, 1963a,b) are interpreted in terms of a hydration model for DNA in aqueous solution in which an intact primary hydration shell of ca. 18 mol of H2O/mol of nucleotide is required for the maintenance of the “B” conformation. Removal of all but those water molecules solvating the phosphate groups results in the conversion to the C forms, predominantly, with a small amount of A structure formed as well in some salts. The accompanying changes in the sedimentation coefficients suggest that the DNA molecule assumes a more compact and/or flexible form under these conditions in which it is mainly in the C and A structures. The combination of these two events which ensue upon dehydration create a polymeric structure which can be more easily packaged in biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1661-1670
Number of pages10
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 1975

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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