The complex of the minor groove binding drug distamycin and the B-DNA oligomer d-(CGCAAATTTGCG) was investigated by molecular dynamics simulations. For this purpose, accurate atomic partial charges of distamycin were determined by extended quantum chemical calculations. The complex was simulated without water but with hydrated counterions. The oligomer without the drug was simulated in the same fashion and also with 1713 water molecules and sodium counterions. The simulations revealed that the binding of distamycin in the minor groove induces a stiffening of the DNA helix. The drug also prevents a transition from B-DNA to A-DNA that was found to occur rapidly (30 ps) in the segment without bound distamycin in a water-free environment but not in simulations including water. In other simulations, we investigated the relaxation processes after distamycin was moved from its preferred binding site, either radially or along the minor groove. Binding in the major groove was simulated as well and resulted in a bound configuration with the guanidinium end of distamycin close to two phosphate groups. We suggest that, in an aqueous environment, tight hydration shells covering the DNA backbone prevent such an arrangement and thus lead to distamycin's propensity for minor groove binding.
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