Monovalent cation induced structural transitions in telomeric DNAs: G-DNA folding intermediates

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Hardin, Charles
Henderson, Eric
Watson, Thomas
Prosser, Joyce
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Telomeric DNA consists of G- and C-rich strands that are always polarized such that the G-rich strand extends past the 3’ end of the duplex to form a 12-16-base overhang. These overhanging strands can self-associate in vitro to form intramolecular structures that have several unusual physical properties and at least one common feature, the presence of non-Watson-Crick G-G base pairs. The term “G-DNA” was coined for this class of structures (Cech, 1988). On the basis of gel electrophoresis, imino proton NMR, and circular dichroism (CD) results, we find that changing the counterions from sodium to potassium (in 20 mM phosphate buffers) specifically induces conformational transitions in the G-rich telomeric DNA from Tetrahymena, d(T2G4)4 (TET4), which results in a change from the intramolecular species to an apparent multistranded structure, accompanied by an increase in the melting temperature of the base pairs of > 2 5 O , as monitored by loss of the imino proton NMR signals. NMR semiselective spin-lattice relaxation rate measurements and HPLC size-exclusion chromatography studies show that in 20 mM potassium phosphate (pH 7) buffer (KP) TET4 is approximately twice the length of the form obtained in 20 mM sodium phosphate (pH 7) buffer (Nap) and that mixtures of Na+ and K+ produce mixtures of the two forms whose populations depend on the ratio of the cations. Since K+ and NH4+ are known to stabilize a parallel-stranded quadruplex structure of poly[r(I),], we infer that the multistranded structure is a quadruplex. Our results indicate that specific differences in ionic interactions can result in a switch in telomeric DNAs between intramolecular hairpin-like or quadruplex-containing species and intermolecular quadruplex structures, all of which involve G G base pairing interactions. We propose a model in which duplex or hairpin forms of G-DNA are folding intermediates in the formation of either 1-, 2-, or 4-stranded quadruplex structures. In this model monovalent cations stabilize the duplex and quadruplex forms via two distinct mechanisms, counterion condensation and octahedral coordination to the carbonyl groups in stacked planar guanine “quartet” base assemblies. Substituting one of the guanosine residues in each of the repeats of the Tetrahymena sequence to give the human telomeric DNA, d(T2AG,)4, results in less effective K+-dependent stabilization. Thus, the ion-dependent stabilization is attenuated by altering the sequence. Upon addition of the Watson-Crick (WC) complementary strand, only the Na+-stabilized structure dissociates quickly to form a WC double helix. This demonstrates that under some circumstances the K+-stabilized G-DNA structure can be kinetically preferred over WC DNA.


Reprinted (adapted) with permission from Monovalent cation induced structural transitions in telomeric DNAs: G-DNA folding intermediates. Charles C. Hardin, Eric Henderson, Thomas Watson, and Joyce K. Prosser. Biochemistry 1991 30 (18), 4460-4472. DOI: 10.1021/bi00232a013. Copyright 1991 American Chemical Society.