Structure-based models or Gō-like models, which are built from one or multiple particular experimental structures, have been successfully applied to the folding of proteins and RNAs. Recently, a variant termed the hybrid atomistic model advances the description of backbone and side chain interactions of traditional structure-based models, by borrowing the description of local interactions from classical force fields. In this study, we assessed the validity of this model in the folding problem of human telomeric DNA G-quadruplex, where local dihedral terms play important roles. A two-state model was developed and a set of molecular dynamics simulations was conducted to study the folding dynamics of sequence Htel24, which was experimentally validated to adopt two different (3 + 1) hybrid G-quadruplex topologies in K+ solution. Consistent with the experimental observations, the hybrid-1 conformation was found to be more stable and the hybrid-2 conformation was kinetically more favored. The simulations revealed that the hybrid-2 conformation folded in a higher cooperative manner, which may be the reason why it was kinetically more accessible. Moreover, by building a Markov state model, a two-quartet G-quadruplex state and a misfolded state were identified as competing states to complicate the folding process of Htel24. Besides, the simulations also showed that the transition between hybrid-1 and hybrid-2 conformations may proceed an ensemble of hairpin structures. The hybrid atomistic structure-based model reproduced the kinetic partitioning folding dynamics of Htel24 between two different folds, and thus can be used to study the complex folding processes of other G-quadruplex structures.

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