Theoretical studies of the intercalation of 9-hydroxyellipticine in DNA

A. H. Elcock*, A. Rodger, W. G. Richards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Extensive molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have been used to investigate the intercalative binding of 9-hydroxyellipticine to the DNA oligonucleotide d(ATATATATATAT)2. Four independent simulations differing in the initial orientation of the drug at the intercalation site were carried out, and compared both with each other and a control simulation of the free DNA sequence. The structure of the latter was compared with structures obtained from x-ray crystallography and nmr spectroscopy, as well as the theoretically derived 'alternating B-DNA' model [A. Klug et al. (1979), Journal of Molecular Biology, Vol. 131, p. 669]. The alternation of twist angles observed in experimental structures was reproduced in the simulation. All four independent simulations of the drug-DNA intercalation complex converged in placing the pyridine ring of the ellipticine chromophore in the major groove; in one case this involved a 180° rotation of the drug at the intercalation site. At a more detailed level, the drug is seen to be capable of adopting several distinct orientations, each stable over a period of hundreds of picoseconds. Despite the presence of several polar groups in the drug, however, no direct hydrogen bonding to the DNA occurs, instead, interactions between the methyl group of the drug and the thymine bases at the intercalation site appear important in determining the orientational preferences of the drug. Comparison of the intercalation complexes with the free DNA sequence shows a degree of unwinding resulting from intercalation, in good agreement with experimental results, but spread over the three central base-pair steps, not confined to the intercalation site itself. Measurements of torsional rigidity indicate only a slight stiffening of the DNA restricted to the immediate site of intercalation. The structures obtained from the MD simulation were used to calculate theoretical CD spectra, with separate simulation giving very different results. This appears to indicate that given an accurate assignment of the main electronic transition dipole moment of the ellipticine chromophore, discrimination of the more realistic binding geometries may be possible. The relative merits of the various drug orientations observed in the simulations are discussed and a perpendicular orientation of the drug at the intercalation site is considered to be the most consistent with experimental data. While the simulations themselves represent a total of over 2 ns, however, the differences apparent between independent runs indicate that longer simulation times will be required before a complete, unequivocal view of DNA intercalation is obtained.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-326
Number of pages18
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1996
Externally publishedYes


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