We have employed a variety of physical methods to study the equilibrium melting and temperature-dependent conformational dynamics of dA•dT tracts in fractionated synthetic DNA polymers and in well-defined fragments of kinetoplast DNA (kDNA). Using circular dichroism (CD), we have detected a temperature-dependent, “premelting” event in poly(dA)•poly(dT) which exhibits a midpoint near 37°C. Significantly, we also detect this CD “premelting” behavior in a fragment of kDNA. By contrast, we do not observe this “premelting” behavior in the temperature-dependent CD spectra of poly[d(AT)]•poly[d(AT)], poly(dG)•poly(dC), poly[d(GC)]•poly[d(GC)], or calf thymus DNA. Thus, poly(dA)•poly(dT) and kDNA exhibit a common CD-detected “premelting” event which is absent in the other duplex systems studied in this work. Furthermore, we find that the anomalous electrophoretic retardation of the kDNA fragments we have investigated disappears at temperatures above approximately 37°C. We also observe that the rotational dynamics of poly(dA)•poly(dT) and kDNA as assessed by singlet depletion anisotropy decay (SDAD) and electric birefringence decay (EBD) also display a discontinuity near 37 °C, which is not observed for the other duplex systems studied. Thus, in the aggregate, our static and dynamic measurements suggest that the homo dA•dT sequence element [common to both poly(dA)•poly(dT) and kDNA] is capable of a temperature-dependent equilibrium between at least two helical states in a temperature range well below that required to induce global melting of the host duplex. We suggest that this “preglobal” melting event may correspond to the thermally induced “disruption” of “bent” DNA.
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