A theory for deriving drug-DNA site binding constants from footprinting data is presented. Plots of oligonucleotide concentration, as a function of drug concentration, for various cutting positions on DNA are required. It is assumed that the rate of cleavage at each nucleotide position is proportional to the concentration of enzyme at that nucleotide and to the probability that the nucleotide is not blocked by drug. The probability of a nucleotide position not being blocked is calculated by assuming a conventional binding equilibrium for each binding site with exclusions for overlapping sites. The theory has been used to evaluate individual site binding constants for the antiviral agent netropsin toward a 139 base pair restriction fragment of pBR-322 DNA. Drug binding constants, evaluated from footprinting data in the presence of calf thymus DNA and poly(dGdC) as carrier and in the absence of carrier DNA, were determined by obtaining the best fit between calculated and experimental footprinting data. Although the strong sites on the fragment were all of the type (T•A)4, the value of the binding constant was strongly sequence dependent. Sites containing the dinucleotide sequence 5'-TA-3' were found to have significantly lower binding constants than those without this sequence, suggesting that an adenine-adenine clash produces a DNA structural alteration in the minor groove which discourages netropsin binding to DNA. The errors, scope, and limitations associated with the method are presented and discussed.
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