Negatively twisted DNA is essential to many biological functions. Due to torsional stress, duplex DNA can have local, sequence-dependent structural defects. In this work, a thermodynamic model of DNA was built to qualitatively predict the local sequence-dependent mechanical instabilities under torsional stress. The results were compared to both simulation of a coarse-grained model and experiment results. By using the Kirkwood superposition approximation, we built an analytical model to represent the free energy difference ΔW of a hydrogen-bonded basepair between the B-form helical state and the basepair opened (or locally melted) state, within a given sequence under torsional stress. We showed that ΔW can be well approximated by two-body interactions with its nearest-sequence-neighbor basepairs plus a free energy correction due to long-range correlations. This model is capable of rapidly predicting the position and thermodynamics of local defects in a given sequence. The result qualitatively matches with an in vitro experiment for a long DNA sequence (>4000 basepairs). The 12 parameters used in this model can be further quantitatively refined when more experimental data are available.
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