Quantifying base-pair geometry by six rigid-body parameters

Standard nitrogenous bases in DNA and RNA (A, C, G, T, and U) are aromatic compounds, each with a planar geometry. In the analyses of three-dimensional (3D) nucleic acid structures, the planar bases are normally taken as rigid bodies. The relative geometry of the two bases in base pair (bp) can then be rigorously quantified by six rigid-body parameters (see figure below). The three translations along the x-, y- and z-axes are termed Shear, Stretch, and Stagger, respectively. The three corresponding rotations are called Buckle, Propeller (twist), and Opening.

Schematic diagram of six rigid-body base-pair parameters

3DNA is unique with its coupled analyze and rebuild programs. The former calculates six bp parameters given 3D atomic coordinates (in PDB or PDBx/mmCIF format), while the later takes a set of such parameters to generate the corresponding structure. The rigor of the description can be easily verified in two equivalent ways: the close to zero root-mean-square deviation (RMSD) between the rebuilt structure and the original coordinates, after a least-squares superposition; or the identical six bp parameters when the rebuilt structure is analyzed.

As is often the case, a concrete example would make the point clear. Here I am using the reverse Hoogsteen (rHoogsteen) bp between U8 and A14 (see image below) in the yeast phenylalanine tRNA (1ehz) as an example. The PDB atomic coordinates of the U8–A14 rHoogsteen pair, excluding backbone atoms except for C1′, is stored in file 1ehz-U8-A14.pdb.

The reverse Hoogsteen U8–A14 base pair in tRNA (1ehz)

find_pair 1ehz-U8-A14.pdb stdout | analyze stdin
    # bp parameters in file '1ehz-U8-A14.out'
    # also generated 'bp_step.par' for rebuilding below
rebuild -atomic bp_step.par 1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.pdb
    # rmsd is 0.044 Å between '1ehz-U8-A14.pdb' and '1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.pdb'
find_pair 1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.pdb stdout | analyze stdin
    # bp parameters of the rebuilt structure in '1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.out'
rebuild -atomic bp_step.par 1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA-new.pdb
    # rmsd is 0 Å between '1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.pdb' and '1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA-new.pdb'

Note that the above commands should be performed in order, since the file bp_step.par is overwritten after each analyze run. For your verification, here are the links to the five files:

The 0.044 Å rmsd between the original PDB coordinates in 1ehz-U8-A14.pdb and the 3DNA rebuilt structure in 1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.pdb is due to the slight non-planarity of experimental bases. The rmsd is 0 between the two rounds of 3DNA rebuilt structures, 1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.pdb and 1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA-new.pdb, as expected.

The bp parameters in 1ehz-U8-A14.out and 1ehz-U8-A14-3DNA.out are identical, as expected, and they are shown below.

Local base-pair parameters
     bp        Shear    Stretch   Stagger    Buckle  Propeller  Opening
    1 U-A       4.14     -1.91      0.77     -4.62     12.12   -103.09 

Running DSSR on 1ehz-U8-A14.pdb gives the following results. Note that the six bp parameters (last row prefixed with bp-pars) are the exactly same as in 3DNA — we are consistent.

# x3dna-dssr -i=1ehz-U8-A14.pdb --more
List of 1 base pair
      nt1            nt2           bp  name        Saenger    LW  DSSR
   1 A.U8           A.A14          U-A rHoogsteen  24-XXIV   tWH  tW-M
       [n/a(n/a) ---- lambda=28.3] [n/a(n/a) ---- lambda=21.5]
       d(C1'-C1')=9.63 d(N1-N9)=7.06 d(C6-C8)=6.00 tor(C1'-N1-N9-C1')=174.4
       H-bonds[2]: "O2(carbonyl)-N6(amino)[3.00],N3(imino)-N7[2.74]"
       interBase-angle=12.97  Simple-bpParams: Shear=4.28 Stretch=1.55 Buckle=-11.8 Propeller=5.4
       bp-pars: [4.14    -1.91   0.77    -4.62   12.12   -103.09]

As mentioned in the recent DSSR paper:

As in 3DNA (6,7), DSSR takes advantage of the six standard base-pair parameters––three translations (Shear, Stretch, Stagger) and three rotations (Buckle, Propeller, Opening)––to quantify the relative spatial position and orientation of any two interacting bases rigorously. Among the six parameters, only Shear, Stretch, and Opening are critical for characterizing different types of pairs. Buckle, Propeller and Stagger, on the other hand, describe the nonplanarity of a given pair (6). By virtue of the definition of the standard base reference frame, Shear, Stretch, and Opening are all close to zero for Watson-Crick pairs. Moreover, every other type of pair has a set of characteristic parameters. For example, the wobble G–U pair is characterized by an average Shear of –2.2 Å, and the Hoogsteen A+U pair is distinguished by a Stretch of approximately –3.5 Å and an Opening of near 66º.

In a follow-up post, I will talk about the “simple” bp parameters (Simple-bpParams in the above DSSR output list) recently introduced into DSSR — stay tuned!

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