Different Between DNA-A form, DNA-B form, DNA-Z form

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Why do different forms of DNA exist?

  • The existence of different forms of DNA can be attributed to several factors, primarily the need for DNA to fit within the limited space available in cells and nuclei. DNA is a long, double-stranded molecule that carries genetic information, but in its linear B-DNA conformation, it would require an impractical amount of space. In order to accommodate DNA within the cell or nucleus, it must undergo significant compaction, often by more than a thousand-fold.
  • Through the use of X-ray crystallography on short synthetic pieces of DNA, scientists have been able to gain a refined resolution of the DNA structure. This research has revealed that the helical structure of DNA can vary considerably depending on the DNA sequence. For instance, even a 200-base pair (bp) segment of DNA can appear to be over 1000 bp long on an acrylamide gel if it possesses the appropriate sequence. This indicates that the double helix structure of DNA is not a uniform entity.
  • The variance in the helical structure of DNA based on sequence plays a crucial role in the compacting and folding of DNA within the cell. Different sequences can result in different conformations and interactions between DNA strands. This variation enables the efficient packaging of DNA, allowing it to fit within the confined spaces of cells and nuclei. The specific DNA sequence determines how the double helix folds, bends, and interacts with other molecules.
  • Furthermore, the structural diversity of DNA is not limited to the double helix alone. There are other forms of DNA, such as Z-DNA and triple-stranded DNA structures, that can arise under certain conditions or with specific sequences. These alternative DNA structures have distinctive characteristics and can have regulatory roles in gene expression and other cellular processes.
Different Forms of DNA and Differences
Different Forms of DNA and Differences

Main spiral properties of DNA forms.

Prop|Form A B Z
Spiral type Right Right Left
Step, Å 28.03 33.75 43. 5
Bases per coil 11 10 12
Major groove width, Å 7.98
5:A.P — 30:B.P
4:A.P — 31:B.P
8:A.P — 29:B.P
9:A.P — 28:B.P
14:A.P — 27:B.P
13:A.P — 28:B.P
Minor groove width, Å 16.97
31:B.P — 13:A.P
30:B.P — 14:A.P
34:B.P — 11:A.P
35:B.P — 10:A.P
38:B.P — 7:A.P
37:B.P — 8:A.P

Different Forms of DNA and Differences

B-form of DNA

  • B-form DNA is the most commonly recognized and widely studied form of the double helix. Proposed by Watson and Crick, it consists of two strands of DNA that wind around the same axis in a right-hand helical structure. The stability of the B-DNA structure is maintained by hydrogen bonding between the bases, specifically in the anti-conformation.
  • In the B-form DNA, the two strands of the double helix are antiparallel, meaning they run in opposite directions. They are plectonemically coiled, resulting in a compact and efficient structure. The nucleotides on one strand align in a 5′ to 3′ orientation, while their complementary nucleotides on the opposite strand align in a 3′ to 5′ orientation.
  • Base pairing in B-DNA follows Chargaff’s rules, which state that adenine (A) always pairs with thymine (T) and guanine (G) always pairs with cytosine (C). This complementary base pairing ensures that a keto base is paired with an amino base, and a purine base is paired with a pyrimidine base. Adenine forms two hydrogen bonds with thymine, while guanine forms three hydrogen bonds with cytosine. These specific base-pairing interactions contribute to the stability of the double helix structure.
  • The B-DNA structure provides a mechanism for replicating and copying genetic information. The complementary base pairing allows for the accurate and faithful transmission of genetic material during DNA replication and transcription.
  • In terms of dimensions, B-form DNA has a distance of approximately 34 nanometers (nm) between base pairs. Each helical turn measures about 3.4 nm, and there are approximately 10 base pairs per turn. The diameter of the B-DNA helix is around 9 nm, equivalent to approximately 2.0 nm or 20 Angstroms.
  • The B-form DNA helix has specific structural characteristics. It has a helix pitch of 34 degrees, a base-pair tilt of -6 degrees, and a twist angle of 36 degrees. These parameters describe the geometrical aspects of the B-DNA helical structure.
  • Overall, B-form DNA represents the classic double helix structure that is widely recognized and serves as the basis for understanding DNA replication, transcription, and other essential biological processes.

A-form of DNA

  • A-form DNA is a distinct conformation of nucleic acid that differs from the more commonly known B-form DNA. One of the key differences lies in the conformation of the deoxyribose sugar ring. In B-form DNA, the sugar ring is in the C2′ endoconformation, whereas in A-form DNA, it adopts the C3′ endoconformation.
  • Another significant distinction between A-form and B-form DNA is the arrangement of base pairs within the double helix. In B-form DNA, the base pairs are nearly centered over the helical axis, while in A-form DNA, they are displaced away from the central axis and closer to the major groove. As a result, the A-form DNA helix takes on a ribbon-like shape with a more open cylindrical core.
  • Similar to B-form DNA, the A-form DNA helix is also right-handed, meaning it twists in a clockwise direction when viewed along the helical axis. It has approximately 11 base pairs per turn, with an axial rise of around 0.26 nanometers. The helix pitch of A-form DNA is approximately 28 degrees, indicating the angle between successive turns of the helix. The base-pair tilt in A-form DNA is about 20 degrees.
  • The twist angle of A-form DNA is approximately 33 degrees, representing the rotation between adjacent base pairs. The helix diameter of A-form DNA is approximately 2.3 nanometers, which is slightly smaller compared to the B-form DNA helix.
  • The unique structural characteristics of A-form DNA can have functional implications. A-form DNA is often found in certain types of RNA-DNA hybrids, RNA-RNA complexes, and under specific physiological conditions. Its distinct conformation allows for different protein interactions and can influence processes such as transcription, translation, and DNA repair.
  • In summary, A-form DNA represents an alternative conformation of nucleic acid with distinct features compared to the more familiar B-form DNA. It is characterized by the C3′ endoconformation of the deoxyribose sugar ring, a displacement of base pairs away from the central axis, and a ribbon-like helix structure with an open cylindrical core. Understanding the structural differences between A-form and B-form DNA contributes to our knowledge of DNA structure-function relationships in various biological processes.

Z-form of DNA

  • Z-DNA is a distinct form of DNA structure that differs significantly from both A-form and B-form DNA. It is characterized by the coiling of the two strands in left-handed helices, giving rise to a pronounced zig-zag pattern in the phosphodiester backbone.
  • The formation of Z-DNA is favored when the DNA sequence contains an alternating pattern of purine and pyrimidine bases, such as GCGCGC. In this case, the guanine (G) and cytosine (C) nucleotides adopt different conformations, leading to the observed zig-zag pattern in the backbone.
  • One of the notable differences in Z-DNA occurs at the G nucleotide. The sugar of the G nucleotide adopts the C3′ endoconformation, similar to A-form nucleic acid but contrasting with B-form DNA. Additionally, the guanine base is in the synconformation, which positions it back over the sugar ring. This is different from the anticonformation observed in both A-form and B-form nucleic acid. The synconformation of the G nucleotide affects the formation of hydrogen bonds with the complementary base on the opposite strand.
  • In Z-DNA, the duplex structure must accommodate the distortion caused by the G nucleotide in the synconformation, while the cytosine in the adjacent nucleotide adopts the “normal” C2′ endo, anticonformation.
  • Z-DNA was discovered by Rich, Nordheim, and Wang in 1984. Similar to B-DNA, Z-DNA has antiparallel strands. However, it differs in terms of its shape, being long and thin compared to the more compact B-DNA structure.
  • In terms of dimensions, Z-DNA exhibits approximately 12 base pairs per turn and an axial rise of about 0.45 nanometers. The helix pitch of Z-DNA is approximately 45 degrees, indicating the angle between successive turns of the helix. The base-pair tilt in Z-DNA is around 7 degrees. The twist angle, representing the rotation between adjacent base pairs, is approximately -30 degrees. The helix diameter of Z-DNA is approximately 1.8 nanometers.
  • Z-DNA is considered to be a relatively rare form of DNA structure that may play a role in specific biological processes such as gene expression and DNA repair. Its unique conformation and distinct properties contribute to its potential functional significance in cellular activities.
  • In summary, Z-DNA represents a distinct form of DNA characterized by left-handed helices, a pronounced zig-zag pattern in the backbone, and specific conformations of guanine and cytosine nucleotides. Its discovery has added to our understanding of the structural diversity and functional roles of DNA in biological systems.
omparison of helical axes between A-, B-, and Z-form nucleic acids.
omparison of helical axes between A-, B-, and Z-form nucleic acids. | Image Source: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules28020843

Different Between DNA-A form, DNA-B form, DNA-Z form

Feature B-form DNA A-form DNA Z-form DNA
Helix handedness Right-handed Right-handed Left-handed
Sugar conformation C2′ endo C3′ endo C3′ endo (G), C2′ endo (C)
Base-pair placement Centered over helical axis Displaced away from central axis, closer to major groove Zig-zag pattern in backbone
Base-pairing pattern A-T, G-C A-T, G-C Alternating purine-pyrimidine
Nucleotide conformation Anti-conformation Anti-conformation Syn-conformation (G), Anti-conformation (C)
Strands orientation Antiparallel Antiparallel Antiparallel
Helix shape Compact Ribbon-like, open cylindrical core Long and thin
Number of base pairs per turn About 10 bp About 11 bp About 12 bp
Axial rise About 0.26 nm About 0.26 nm About 0.45 nm
Helix pitch About 34 degrees About 28 degrees About 45 degrees
Base-pair tilt About 20 degrees About 20 degrees About 7 degrees
Twist angle About 36 degrees About 33 degrees About -30 degrees
Helix diameter About 9 nm About 2.0 nm About 1.8 nm
Discovered by Watson and Crick Rich, Nordheim & Wang (1984)

Conditions Favoring A-form, B-form, and Z-form of DNA

The conformation of DNA, whether it is in the A-form, B-form, or Z-form, depends on several conditions:

  1. Ionic or hydration environment: The ionic or hydration environment can influence the conversion between different DNA helical forms. A-DNA is favored under conditions of low hydration, where the DNA is in a drier environment. On the other hand, Z-DNA can be favored by high salt concentrations, indicating an environment with elevated ionic strength.
  2. DNA sequence: The specific sequence of DNA plays a role in determining the favored helical form. A-DNA is more likely to be formed by certain stretches of purines or pyrimidines within the DNA sequence. The presence of these specific sequences can promote the adoption of the A-form conformation. In contrast, Z-DNA is most readily formed when the DNA sequence contains alternating purine-pyrimidine steps. The alternating pattern facilitates the zig-zag pattern in the Z-DNA backbone.
  3. Protein interactions: The presence of certain proteins can influence the conformation of DNA. Proteins that bind to DNA can interact with specific helical conformations and induce a change in the DNA structure. For example, proteins that typically bind to B-DNA can drive it to adopt either the A-form or Z-form. These proteins act as modulators, forcing the DNA to adopt a different conformation than it would under normal conditions.

In living cells, the majority of DNA exists in a mixture of A-form and B-form conformations. A-DNA and B-DNA coexist in most regions of the genome. However, there are specific small regions within the DNA that are capable of forming Z-DNA. These regions may have sequences that favor the formation of the Z-form conformation, or they may be influenced by proteins that promote Z-DNA formation.

Overall, the conformation of DNA can be influenced by the ionic or hydration environment, the DNA sequence itself, and the presence of proteins that interact with DNA. These factors contribute to the dynamic nature of DNA structure and its ability to adopt different helical forms depending on the prevailing conditions.

Other forms of DNA

In addition to the well-known A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA structures, there are several other rare forms of DNA that have been identified. Here are some notable examples:

  • C-DNA: C-DNA is a form of DNA that is formed under specific conditions. It occurs at around 66% relative humidity and in the presence of Li+ and Mg2+ ions. C-DNA adopts a right-handed helical structure with an axial rise of approximately 3.32 angstroms per base pair. It has 9.33 base pairs per turn, resulting in a helical pitch of approximately 30.97 angstroms. The base pair rotation in C-DNA is about 38.58 degrees. Compared to A-form and B-form DNA, C-DNA has a smaller diameter, measuring approximately 19 angstroms. The base tilt in C-DNA is around 7.8 degrees.
  • D-DNA: D-DNA is a rare variant of DNA that is characterized by having 8 base pairs per helical turn. It is found in some DNA molecules that lack guanine. The axial rise in D-DNA is approximately 3.03 angstroms per base pair, and there is a tilt of about 16.7 degrees from the axis of the helix. The specific absence of guanine in D-DNA sets it apart from other DNA forms.
  • E-DNA: E-DNA, also known as extended or eccentric DNA, exhibits distinctive structural features. It has a long helical axis rise, and the bases are oriented perpendicular to the helical axis. E-DNA has a deep major groove and a shallow minor groove, creating an asymmetrical appearance. Interestingly, when E-DNA is allowed to crystallize for a longer period of time, the methylated sequence can transition to the standard A-DNA form. E-DNA serves as an intermediate structure in the crystallographic pathway between B-DNA and A-DNA.

These rare forms of DNA provide insights into the structural versatility of DNA and its ability to adopt different conformations under specific conditions. While they may not be as prevalent as the A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA, studying these rare forms contributes to a deeper understanding of DNA structure and function.


What are the main differences between DNA A-form, B-form, and Z-form?

The main differences lie in their sugar conformations, base pair arrangements, helix structures, and environmental preferences.

How do the sugar conformations differ in A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA?

A-form DNA has the sugar in the C3′ endo conformation, B-form DNA has it in the C2′ endo conformation, and Z-form DNA has a combination of C3′ endo (G) and C2′ endo (C) conformations.

What is the arrangement of base pairs in A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA?

A-form and B-form DNA have base pairs almost centered over the helical axis, while Z-form DNA has alternating purine-pyrimidine steps with a pronounced zig-zag pattern in the phosphodiester backbone.

Are the helix structures of A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA similar or different?

They have different helix structures. A-form DNA is more compact and ribbon-like, B-form DNA is the well-known right-handed double helix, and Z-form DNA forms left-handed helices.

What are the preferred environmental conditions for the formation of A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA?

A-form DNA is favored by low hydration, B-form DNA is the standard conformation in physiological conditions, and Z-form DNA can be favored by high salt concentrations.

Do A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA have the same helix handedness?

A-form and B-form DNA are right-handed helices, while Z-form DNA is a left-handed helix.

Are the helix diameters of A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA similar or different?

A-form DNA has a smaller diameter compared to A- and B-form DNA, while B-form DNA has a diameter of about 9 nm. Z-form DNA has a smaller diameter of about 1.8 nm.

How many base pairs are present per turn in A-form, B-form, and Z-form DNA?

A-form DNA has about 11 base pairs per turn, B-form DNA has about 10 base pairs per turn, and Z-form DNA has about 12 base pairs per turn.

Which DNA form is most common in living cells?

In living cells, the majority of DNA exists in a mixture of A-form and B-form conformations, with only a few small regions capable of forming Z-form DNA.

Are there any specific proteins that influence the conformation of A-form, B-form, or Z-form DNA?

Yes, there are proteins that can bind to DNA and induce conformational changes. For example, proteins that typically bind to B-DNA can drive it to adopt either the A-form or Z-form conformation. These proteins act as modulators, forcing the DNA to adopt a different conformation than it would under normal conditions.

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