Long Time-Scale Atomistic Simulations of the Structure and Dynamics of Transcription Factor-DNA Recognition
Recent years have witnessed an explosion of interest in computational studies of DNA binding proteins, including both coarse grained and atomistic simulations of transcription factor-DNA recognition, in order to understand how these transcription factors recognize their binding sites on the DNA with such exquisite specificity. The present study performs μs-timescale all-atom simulations of the dimeric form of the lactose repressor (LacI), both in the absence of any DNA, and in the presence of both specific and non-specific complexes, considering three different DNA sequences. We examine, specifically, the conformational differences between specific and non-specific protein-DNA interactions, as well as the behavior of the helix-turn-helix motif of LacI when interacting with the DNA. Our simulations suggest that stable LacI binding occurs primarily to bent A-form DNA, with a loss of LacI conformational entropy and optimization of correlated conformational equilibria across the protein. In addition, binding to the specific operator sequence involves a slightly larger number of stabilizing DNA-protein hydrogen bonds (in comparison to non-specific complexes), that may account for the experimentally observed specificity for this operator. In doing so, our simulations provide a detailed atomistic description of potential structural drivers for LacI selectivity.