During DNA replication, DNA polymerases follow an induced fit mechanism in order to rapidly distinguish between correct and incorrect dNTP substrates. The dynamics of this process are crucial to the overall effectiveness of catalysis. Although Xray crystal structures of DNA polymerase I with substrate dNTPs have revealed key structural states along the catalytic pathway, solution fluorescence studies indicate that those key states are populated in the absence of substrate. Herein, we report the first atomistic simulations showing the conformational changes between the closed, open, and ajar conformations of DNA polymerase I in the binary (enzyme:DNA) state to better understand its dynamics. We have applied long time-scale, unbiased molecular dynamics to investigate the opening process of the fingers domain in the absence of substrate for B. stearothermophilis DNA polymerase in silico. These simulations are biologically and/or physiologically relevant as they shed light on the transitions between states in this important enzyme. All closed and ajar simulations successfully transitioned into the fully open conformation, which is known to be the dominant binary enzyme-DNA conformation from solution and crystallographic studies. Furthermore, we have detailed the key stages in the opening process starting from the open and ajar crystal structures, including the observation of a previously unknown key intermediate structure. Four backbone dihedrals were identified as important during the opening process, and their movements provide insight into the recognition of dNTP substrate molecules by the polymerase binary state. In addition to revealing the opening mechanism, this study also demonstrates our ability to study biological events of DNA polymerase using current computational methods without biasing the dynamics.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2014, PLOS. This article first appeared in PLOS Computational Biology: 10:12 (2014), 1-15.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.