Probing the role of surface structure in electrostatic interactions, we report the first observation of sequence-dependent dsDNA condensation by divalent alkaline earth metal cations. Disparate behaviors were found between two repeating sequences with 100% AT content, a poly(A)-poly(T) duplex (AA-TT) and a poly(AT)-poly(TA) duplex (AT-TA). While AT-TA exhibits non-distinguishable behaviors from random-sequence genomic DNA, AA-TT condenses in all alkaline earth metal ions. We characterized these interactions experimentally and investigated the underlying principles using computer simulations. Both experiments and simulations demonstrate that AA-TT condensation is driven by nonspecific ion–DNA interactions. Detailed analyses reveal sequence-enhanced major groove binding (SEGB) of point-charged alkali ions as the major difference between AA-TT and AT-TA, which originates from the continuous and close stacking of nucleobase partial charges. These SEGB cations elicit attraction via spatial juxtaposition with the phosphate backbone of neighboring helices, resulting in an azimuthal angular shift between apposing helices. Our study thus presents a distinct mechanism in which, sequence-directed surface motifs act with cations non-specifically to enact sequence-dependent behaviors. This physical insight allows a renewed understanding of the role of repeating sequences in genome organization and regulation and offers a facile approach for DNA technology to control the assembly process of nanostructures.
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