Uncovering the self-assembly of DNA nanostructures by thermodynamics and kinetics

Xixi Wei, Jeanette Nangreave, Yan Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


ConspectusDNA nanotechnology is one of the most flourishing interdisciplinary research fields. DNA nanostructures can be designed to self-assemble into a variety of periodic or aperiodic patterns of different shapes and length scales. They can be used as scaffolds for organizing other nanoparticles, proteins, and chemical groups, leveraging their functions for creating complex bioinspired materials that may serve as smart drug delivery systems, in vitro or in vivo biomolecular computing platforms, and diagnostic devices. Achieving optimal structural features, efficient assembly protocols, and precise functional group positioning and modification requires a thorough understanding of the thermodynamics and kinetics of the DNA nanostructure self-assembly process. The most common real-time measurement strategies include monitoring changes in UV absorbance based on the hyperchromic effect of DNA, and the emission signal changes of DNA intercalating dyes or covalently conjugated fluorescent dyes/pairs that accompany temperature dependent structural changes.Thermodynamic studies of a variety of DNA nanostructures have been performed, from simple double stranded DNA formation to more complex origami assembly. The key parameters that have been evaluated in terms of stability and cooperativity include the overall dimensions, the folding path of the scaffold, crossover and nick point arrangement, length and sequence of single strands, and salt and ion concentrations. DNA tile-tile interactions through sticky end hybridization have also been analyzed, and the steric inhibition and rigidity of tiles turn out to be important factors. Many kinetic studies have also been reported, and most are based on double stranded DNA formation. A two-state assumption and the hypothesis of several intermediate states have been applied to determine the rate constant and activation energy of the DNA hybridization process. A few simulated models were proposed to represent the structural, mechanical, and kinetic properties of DNA hybridization. The kinetics of strand displacement reactions has also been studied as a special case of DNA hybridization.The thermodynamic and kinetic characteristics of DNA nanostructures have been exploited to develop rapid and isothermal annealing protocols. It is conceivable that a more thorough understanding of the DNA assembly process could be used to guide the structural design process and optimize the conditions for assembly, manipulation, and functionalization, thus benefiting both upstream design and downstream applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1861-1870
Number of pages10
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 17 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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