Published: Dec. 31, 2008
data plot

A. Garai, D. Chowdhury, and M. D. Betterton (2008). Physical Review E 77, 061910 pp. 1-9 (2008). arXiv:0707.2766. Download.

Helicases are molecular motors that unwind double-stranded nucleic acids dsNA, such as DNA and RNA. Typically a helicase translocates along one of the NA single strands while unwinding and uses adenosine triphosphate ATP hydrolysis as an energy source. Here we model a helicase motor that can switch between two states, which could represent two different points in the ATP hydrolysis cycle. Our model is an extension of the earlier Betterton-Jülicher model of helicases to incorporate switching between two states. The main predictions of the model are the speed of unwinding of the dsNA and fluctuations around the average unwinding velocity. Motivated by a recent claim that the NS3 helicase of Hepatitis C virus follows a flashing-ratchet mechanism, we have compared the experimental results for the NS3 helicase with a special limit of our model which corresponds to the flashing-ratchet scenario. Our model accounts for one key feature of the experimental data on NS3 helicase. However, contradictory observations in experiments carried out under different conditions limit the ability to compare the model to experiments.