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Kriegel, Franziska; Ermann, Niklas; Lipfert, Jan (2017): Probing the mechanical properties, conformational changes, and interactions of nucleic acids with magnetic tweezers. In: Journal of Structural Biology, Vol. 197, No. 1: pp. 26-36
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Nucleic acids are central to the storage and transmission of genetic information. Mechanical properties, along with their sequence, both enable and fundamentally constrain the biological functions of DNA and RNA. For small deformations from the equilibrium conformations, nucleic acids are well described by an isotropic elastic rod model. However, external forces and torsional strains can induce conformational changes, giving rise to a complex force-torque phase diagram. This review focuses on magnetic tweezers as a powerful tool to precisely determine both the elastic parameters and conformational transitions of nucleic acids under external forces and torques at the single-molecule level. We review several variations of magnetic tweezers, in particular conventional magnetic tweezers, freely orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers, and discuss their characteristic capabilities. We then describe the elastic rod model for DNA and RNA and discuss conformational changes induced by mechanical stress. The focus lies on the responses to torque and twist, which are crucial in the mechanics and interactions of nucleic acids and can directly be measured using magnetic tweezers. We conclude by highlighting several recent studies of nucleic acid-protein and nucleic acid-small-molecule interactions as further applications of magnetic tweezers and give an outlook of some exciting developments to come. (C) 2016 Published by Elsevier Inc.