Effect of Single-Residue Mutations on CTCF Binding to DNA: Insights from Molecular Dynamics Simulations

Albert Mao, Carrie Chen, Stephanie Portillo-Ledesma, Tamar Schlick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In humans and other eukaryotes, DNA is condensed into chromatin fibers that are further wound into chromosomes. This organization allows regulatory elements in the genome, often distant from each other in the linear DNA, to interact and facilitate gene expression through regions known as topologically associating domains (TADs). CCCTC–binding factor (CTCF) is one of the major components of TAD formation and is responsible for recruiting a partner protein, cohesin, to perform loop extrusion and facilitate proper gene expression within TADs. Because single-residue CTCF mutations have been linked to the development of a variety of cancers in humans, we aim to better understand how these mutations affect the CTCF structure and its interaction with DNA. To this end, we compare all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of a wildtype CTCF–DNA complex to those of eight different cancer-linked CTCF mutant sequences. We find that most mutants have lower binding energies compared to the wildtype protein, leading to the formation of less stable complexes. Depending on the type and position of the mutation, this loss of stability can be attributed to major changes in the electrostatic potential, loss of hydrogen bonds between the CTCF and DNA, and/or destabilization of specific zinc fingers. Interestingly, certain mutations in specific fingers can affect the interaction with the DNA of other fingers, explaining why mere single mutations can impair CTCF function. Overall, these results shed mechanistic insights into experimental observations and further underscore CTCF’s importance in the regulation of chromatin architecture and gene expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6395
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • CTCF
  • cancer
  • molecular dynamics
  • mutations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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