Master equation approach to DNA breathing in heteropolymer DNA

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


After crossing an initial barrier to break the first base-pair (bp) in double-stranded DNA, the disruption of further bps is characterized by free energies up to a few kBT. Thermal motion within the DNA double strand therefore causes the opening of intermittent single-stranded denaturation zones, the DNA bubbles. The unzipping and zipping dynamics of bps at the two zipper forks of a bubble, where the single strand of the denatured zone joins the still intact double strand, can be monitored by single molecule fluorescence or NMR methods. We here establish a dynamic description of this DNA breathing in a heteropolymer DNA with given sequence in terms of a master equation that governs the time evolution of the joint probability distribution for the bubble size and position along the sequence. The transfer coefficients are based on the Poland-Scheraga free energy model. We derive the autocorrelation function for the bubble dynamics and the associated relaxation time spectrum. In particular, we show how one can obtain the probability densities of individual bubble lifetimes and of the waiting times between successive bubble events from the master equation. A comparison to results of a stochastic Gillespie simulation shows excellent agreement.


External organisations
  • Nordic Institute for Theoretical Atomic Physics (NORDITA), Copenhagen
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biophysics
Original languageEnglish
Article number021908
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes