Characterization of hairpin-duplex interconversion of DNA using polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis

Michael Shubsda, Jerry Goodisman, James C. Dabrowiak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We show how polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of radiolabeled DNA can be used to measure the hairpin-duplex equilibrium constant for DNA in solution. As an aid to the interpretation of the experiments, the differential equations associated with diffusion, migration and chemical reaction of the DNA forms are solved and intensity patterns generated. Two kinds of experiments were performed on several DNA 12-mers: in the first, electrophoresis time was constant while DNA concentration varied; in the other, concentration was constant while time varied (a 'load-and-run' gel). The observed patterns depended on the gel temperature and not the temperature at which the DNA was equilibrated before loading in the well, because reequilibration occurs before the DNA leaves the well to enter the gel proper. During this time, mixing also occurs, changing the concentration and ionic strength of the sample. A method of calculating the true DNA concentration, including the unmeasured concentration added with the radiolabel, is given. When the intensity pattern consists mainly of monomer and dimer peaks, the equilibrium constant K is easily calculated from peak intensities. However, when there is significant intensity between the peaks (which the calculations show results from monomer-dimer interconversion in the gel), K will be inaccurate. An accurate value of K may be determined from a load-and-run gel by extrapolating back to time 0. When the intensity pattern consists of a single broad peak (from rapid monomer-dimer interconversion in the gel), K cannot be calculated without additional information. The rate of interconversion increases with temperature. Estimated rates in the gel are more than an order of magnitude smaller than in bulk solution at the same temperature. Derived values of K for several DNAs are compared with literature values. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-115
Number of pages21
JournalBiophysical Chemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1999


  • DNA
  • Dimerization
  • Duplex
  • Electrophoresis
  • Hairpin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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