Solvent Fluctuations Drive the Hole Transfer in DNA: A Mixed Quantum−Classical Study

We studied the hole transfer across adenine bridges in double-stranded DNA by means of a multiscale approach, propagating the hole in the framework of time-dependent DFT coupled to classical molecular dynamics simulation using a QM/MM scheme. The hole transfer in DNA is codetermined by the large fluctuations of site energies on the order of 0.4 eV, induced by the solvent degrees of freedom. These fluctuations lead to charge-transfer active conformations with large transfer efficiency, which are characterized by a favorable alignment of site energies along the DNA strand. This reduces the barrier for the hole transfer dramatically. Consequently, we find that a charge hopping mechanism is operative already for short bridges with fewer than four adenines, in contrast to the charge-transfer models assuming static DNA structures, where only tunneling occurs. The solvent fluctuations introduce a significant correlation between neighboring sites, enhancing the charge-transfer rate, while the fluctuation of electronic couplings has only a minor impact on the charge-transfer characteristics. Our results emphasize the importance of an accurate description of solvent effects as well as proper sampling, and it is suggested that charge transfer in DNA is gated by the dynamics of solvent.