Journal article

Looping probabilities of elastic chains: A path integral approach

We consider an elastic chain at thermodynamic equilibrium with a heat bath, and derive an approximation to the probability density function, or pdf, governing the relative location and orientation of the two ends of the chain. Our motivation is to exploit continuum mechanics models for the computation of DNA looping probabilities, but here we focus on explaining the novel analytical aspects in the derivation of our approximation formula. Accordingly, and for simplicity, the current presentation is limited to the illustrative case of planar configurations. A path integral formalism is adopted, and, in the standard way, the first approximation to the looping pdf is obtained from a minimal energy configuration satisfying prescribed end conditions. Then we compute an additional factor in the pdf which encompasses the contributions of quadratic fluctuations about the minimum energy configuration along with a simultaneous evaluation of the partition function. The original aspects of our analysis are twofold. First, the quadratic Lagrangian describing the fluctuations has cross-terms that are linear in first derivatives. This, seemingly small, deviation from the structure of standard path integral examples complicates the necessary analysis significantly. Nevertheless, after a nonlinear change of variable of Riccati type, we show that the correction factor to the pdf can still be evaluated in terms of the solution to an initial value problem for the linear system of Jacobi ordinary differential equations associated with the second variation. The second novel aspect of our analysis is that we show that the Hamiltonian form of these linear Jacobi equations still provides the appropriate correction term in the inextensible, unshearable limit that is commonly adopted in polymer physics models of, e. g. DNA. Prior analyses of the inextensible case have had to introduce nonlinear and nonlocal integral constraints to express conditions on the relative displacement of the end points. Our approximation formula for the looping pdf is of quite general applicability as, in contrast to most prior approaches, no assumption is made of either uniformity of the elastic chain, nor of a straight intrinsic shape. If the chain is uniform the Jacobi system evaluated at certain minimum energy configurations has constant coefficients. In such cases our approximate pdf can be evaluated in an entirely explicit, closed form. We illustrate our analysis with a planar example of this type and compute an approximate probability of cyclization, i.e., of forming a closed loop, from a uniform elastic chain whose intrinsic shape is an open circular arc.


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