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DNA strand displacement networks are a critical part of dynamic DNA nanotechnology and are proven primitives for implementing chemical reaction networks. Precise kinetic control of these networks is important for their use in a range of applications. Among the better understood and widely leveraged kinetic properties of these networks are toehold sequence, length, composition, and location. While steric hindrance has been recognized as an important factor in such systems, a clear understanding of its impact and role is lacking. Here, a systematic investigation of steric hindrance within a DNA toehold-mediated strand displacement network was performed through tracking kinetic reactions of reporter complexes with incremental concatenation of steric moieties near the toehold. Two subsets of steric moieties were tested with systematic variation of structures and reaction conditions to isolate sterics from electrostatics. Thermodynamic and coarse-grained computational modeling was performed to gain further insight into the impacts of steric hindrance. Steric factors yielded up to 3 orders of magnitude decrease in the reaction rate constant. This pronounced effect demonstrates that steric moieties can be a powerful tool for kinetic control in strand displacement networks while also being more broadly informative of DNA structural assembly in both DNA-based therapeutic and diagnostic applications that possess elements of steric hindrance through DNA functionalization with an assortment of chemistries.

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This is an open access article published under an ACS AuthorChoice License, which permits copying and redistribution of the article or any adaptations for non-commercial purposes. This document was originally published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society by the American Chemical Society. Copyright restrictions may apply.