Branched DNA molecules (Holliday structures) are believed to be key intermediates in the process of homologous genetic recombination. However, despite the importance of such structures, their transient nature makes it difficult to analyze their physical properties. In an effort to evaluate several models for the geometry of such branched molecules, a stable, synthetic DNA four-way junction has been constructed. The geometry of the synthetic junction has been probed by gel electrophoresis, utilizing the fact that bent DNA molecules demonstrate reduced mobilities on polyacrylamide gels to an extent that varies with the degree of the bend angle. From the synthetic four-way junction, we have produced a set of molecules in which all combinations of two junction arms have been extended by 105 base-pairs. The electrophoretic mobilities of the extended junctions differ in a manner which indicates that the junction is not a completely flexible structure; nor is it tetrahedral or planar-tetragonal. Instead, the four strands that comprise the DNA four-way junction are structurally non-equivalent. The significance of these observations with regard to previous models for four-way junction geometry is discussed.
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