Issue 19, 2015

Modelling proton tunnelling in the adenine–thymine base pair


The energies of the canonical (standard, amino-keto) and tautomeric (non-standard, imino-enol) charge-neutral forms of the adenine–thymine base pair (A–T and A*–T*, respectively) are calculated using density functional theory. The reaction pathway is then computed using a transition state search to provide the asymmetric double-well potential minima along with the barrier height and shape, which are combined to create the potential energy surface using a polynomial fit. The influence of quantum tunnelling on proton transfer within a base pair H-bond (modelled as the DFT deduced double-well potential) is then investigated by solving the time-dependent master equation for the density matrix. The effect on a quantum system by its surrounding water molecules is explored via the inclusion of a dissipative Lindblad term in the master equation, in which the environment is modelled as a heat bath of harmonic oscillators. It is found that quantum tunnelling, due to transitions to higher energy eigenstates with significant amplitudes in the shallow (tautomeric) side of the potential, is unlikely to be a significant mechanism for the creation of adenine–thymine tautomers within DNA, with thermally assisted coupling of the environment only able to boost the tunnelling probability to a maximum of 2 × 10−9. This is barely increased for different choices of the starting wave function or when the geometry of the potential energy surface is varied.

Graphical abstract: Modelling proton tunnelling in the adenine–thymine base pair

Article information

Article type
25 Jan 2015
20 Apr 2015
First published
20 Apr 2015
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2015,17, 13034-13044

Author version available

Modelling proton tunnelling in the adenine–thymine base pair

A. D. Godbeer, J. S. Al-Khalili and P. D. Stevenson, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2015, 17, 13034 DOI: 10.1039/C5CP00472A

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