In footprinting experiments, an increase in DNA cleavage with addition of ligand to a system may be due to a ligand-induced structural change. Ligand binding also enhances cleavage by displacing the cleavage agent from ligand-binding sites, thus increasing its concentration elsewhere. The theory and characteristics of this mass-action enhancement are given, and it is shown how it may be recognized. Results of DNase I footprinting of small oligomers, with actinomycin D as ligand, are analyzed to reveal which enhancements are due to mass action, and which can reasonably be ascribed to structural changes. Patterns in the footprinting plots from our experiments on actinomycin D binding to a 139-base-pair DNA fragment (with DNase I as a probe) are studied in the same way. The likely origins of these patterns are discussed, as are enhancements occurring with other probes commonly used in footprinting experiments.
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