The preparation and physical properties of short DNA duplexes that contain a N4C-ethyl-N4C interstrand cross-link are described. Duplexes that contain an interstrand cross-link between mismatched C-C residues and duplexes in which the C residues of a -CG- or -GC- step are linked to give "staggered" interstrand cross-links were prepared using a novel N4C-ethyl-N4C phosphoramidite reagent. Duplexes with the C-C mismatch cross-link have UV thermal transition temperatures that are 25 °C higher than the melting temperatures of control duplexes in which the cross-link is replaced with a G-C base pair. It appears that this cross-link stabilizes adjacent base pairs and does not perturb the structure of the helix, a conclusion that is supported by the CD spectrum of this duplex and by molecular models. An even higher level of stabilization, 49 °C, is seen with the duplex that contains a -CG- staggered cross-link. Molecular models suggest that this cross-link may induce propeller twisting in the cross-linked base pairs, and the CD spectrum of this duplex exhibits an unusual negative band at 298 nm, although the remainder of the spectrum is similar to that of B-form DNA. Mismatched C-C or -CG- staggered cross-linked duplexes that have complementary overhanging ends can undergo self-ligation catalyzed by T4 DNA ligase. Analysis of the ligated oligomers by nondenaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis shows that the resulting oligomers migrate in a manner similar to that of a mixture of non-cross-linked control oligomers and suggests that these cross-links do not result in significant bending of the helix. However, the orientation of the staggered cross-link can have a significant effect on the structure and stability of the cross-linked duplex. Thus, the thermal stability of the duplex that contains a -GC- staggered cross-link is 10 °C lower than the melting temperature of the control, non-cross-linked duplex. Unlike the -CG- staggered cross-link, in which the cross-linked base pairs can still maintain hydrogen bond contacts, molecular models suggest that formation of the -GC- staggered cross-link disrupts hydrogen bonding and may also perturb adjacent base pairs leading to an overall reduction in helix stability. Duplexes with specifically positioned and oriented cross-links can be used as substrates to study DNA repair mechanisms.
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