Terahertz collective dynamics of DNA as affected by hydration and counterions

Local and propagating vibrations occurring in DNA in the terahertz domain are essential for processes at the basis of cellular metabolism. Here we report the results of a study on the B-DNA terahertz dynamics where we combined high-resolution inelastic x-ray experiments and incoherent inelastic neutron scattering. By using two different high-hydration conditions we could study the effect of packing interactions between double helices, while by selecting Na and Cs counterions we could inspect how the mass loading affects the DNA low-frequency modes. The pattern of coherent excitation energies is well represented in terms of two branches, an acoustic-like one, with an associated propagation velocity of 3000 ± 100 m/s, and the other almost dispersionless at ~2 meV. This picture is also supported by the vibrational density of states projected on the hydrogen atoms. The acoustic-like mode is assigned to DNA excitations, despite its intriguing similarity with the analogous acoustic mode of bulk water at low wave-vector transfers. We also provide evidence for the intrahelical optic-like character of the low-energy mode, that we ascribe to large scale relative motions of DNA sub-domains.

Read the full story!

A. Paciaroni, L. Comez, M. Longo, F. Sebastiani, F. Bianchi, A. Orecchini, M. Zanatta, R. Verbeni, A. Bosak, F. Sacchetti, C. Petrillo, Terahertz collective dynamics of DNA as affected by hydration and counterions, J. Mol. Liq. 318, 113956 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molliq.2020.113956.

photo credit: modified from “A-DNA, B-DNA and Z-DNA.png” by Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) on Wikipedia (copyright CC BY-SA 3.0)