Overstretching of DNA occurs at about 60-70 pN when a torsionally unconstrained double-stranded DNA molecule is stretched by its ends. During the transition, the contour length increases by up to 70% without complete strand dissociation. Three mechanisms are thought to be involved: force-induced melting into single-stranded DNA where either one or both strands carry the tension, or a B-to-S transition into a longer, still base-paired conformation. We stretch sequence-designed oligonucleotides in an effort to isolate the three processes, focusing on force-induced melting. By introducing site-specific inter-strand cross-links in one or both ends of a 64 bp AT-rich duplex we could repeatedly follow the two melting processes at 5 mM and 1 M monovalent salt. We find that when one end is sealed the AT-rich sequence undergoes peeling exhibiting hysteresis at low and high salt. When both ends are sealed the AT sequence instead undergoes internal melting. Thirdly, the peeling melting is studied in a composite oligonucleotide where the same AT-rich sequence is concatenated to a GC-rich sequence known to undergo a B-to-S transition rather than melting. The construct then first melts in the AT-rich part followed at higher forces by a B-to-S transition in the GC-part, indicating that DNA overstretching modes are additive.
Bosaeus, N., El-Sagheer, A. H., Brown, T., Åkerman, B., & Nordén, B. (2014). Force-induced melting of DNA - Evidence for peeling and internal melting from force spectra on short synthetic duplex sequences. Nucleic Acids Research, 42(12), 8083–8091. https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gku441