The DNA triple helix consists of a third strand of nucleic acid lying in the major groove of an intact DNA duplex. The most stable triplexes form on polypurine:polypyrimidine sequences, and pyrimidine interruptions in the purine strand are destabilizing. Sequence stringency is imparted by specific Hoogsteen hydrogen bonds between third strand bases and the purine bases in the duplex. Appropriate base and sugar modifications of triple helix-forming oligonucleotides (TFOs) confer chromosome targeting activity in living cells. However, broad utilization of TFOs as gene targeting reagents in mammalian cells has been limited by the requirement for homopurine target sequences. Although there have been a number of base analogues described that appear to be promising as candidates for triplex target expansion, none has been examined in a biological system. We have employed a postsynthetic strategy to prepare a collection of TFOs with base analogues at a defined position. Following assessment of affinity for a triplex target with a single C:G inversion, TFOs with a second generation of analogues were synthesized. One of these, TFO-5a, with 2′-OMe-guanidinylethyl-5-methylcytosine at the position corresponding to the C:G interruption in the target sequence, was further modified to confer bioactivity. The activity of this TFO, linked to psoralen, was measured in a mammalian cell line that was engineered by directed sequence conversion to carry a triplex target with a single C:G interruption. TFO-5a was active against this target and inactive against the corresponding target with an uninterrupted polypurine:polypyrimidine sequence.
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