Ligation of short DNA fragments results in the formation of linear and circular multimers of various lengths. The distribution of products in such a reaction is often used to evaluate fragment bending caused by specific chemical modification, by bound ligands or by the presence of irregular structural elements. We have developed a more rigorous quantitative approach to the analysis of such experimental data based on determination of j-factors for different multimers from the distribution of the reaction products. j-Factors define the effective concentration of one end of a linear chain in the vicinity of the other end. To extract j-factors we assumed that kinetics of the reaction is described by a system of differential equations where j-factors appear as coefficients. The assumption was confirmed by comparison with experimental data obtained here for DNA fragments containing A-tracts. At the second step of the analysis j-factors are used to determine conformational parameters of DNA fragments: the equilibrium bend angle, the bending rigidity of the fragment axis, and the total twist of the fragments. This procedure is based on empirical equations that connect the conformational parameters with the set of j-factors. To obtain the equations, we computed j-factors for a large array of conformational parameters that describe model fragments. The approach was tested on both simulated and actual experimental data for DNA fragments containing A-tracts. A-tract DNA bend angle determined here is in good agreement with previously published data. We have established a set of experimental conditions necessary for the data analysis to be successful.
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