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The influence of the position of the CG.C+ triplet and the contribution of protonation at the N3 of the Hoogsteen cytosine residue on the stability of various sequences of parallel triple helices having the general composition d[(A5G)-x-(T5C)-x-(T5C)] and d[(A4G2)-x-(T4C2)-x-(T4C2)], where x is the hexaethylene glycol linker, has been determined by NMR, ultraviolet melting and absorbance spectrophotometry. The apparent pK value, i.e. the pH at which the observable has changed by 50% of its range, was typically in the range 6 to 7. However, the NMR spectra unequivocally showed that the pK of the protonated cytosine residue must be at least 9.5 for internal positions. This is five units above the pK of the free nucleotide, and represents a free energy of stabilisation from protonation of >11.5 RT. The pK of terminal cytosine residues is much lower, in the range 6.2 to 7.2, accounting for a free energy of stabilisation from protonation of 3.6 to 6 RT. The van't Hoff enthalpies were determined for the dissociation of the protonated triplex into the duplex+strand, and for the duplex to strand transition. The mean value for the duplexes were 23 to 27 kJ mol-1 base-pair, and 25 to 30 kJ mol-1 for the triplexes containing internal CG.C+ triplets. Good agreement was obtained for the thermodynamic parameters by the different methods. Free energy differences for the transition between the protonated triplex and the duplex+protonated strand were calculated at 298 K. The DeltaG of stabilisation of an internal CG.C triplet compared with a terminal CG.C triplet was about 6 kJ mol-1 ; a similar stabilisation was observed for the triplexes containing two CG.C triplets compared with those containing a single CG.C triplet. The very large stabilisation from protonation is too large to be accounted for by a single hydrogen bond, and is likely to include contributions from electrostatic interactions of the positive charge with the phosphate backbone, and more favourable interactions between neighbouring bases owing to the very different electronic properties of the protonated C.

Original publication




Journal article


J Mol Biol

Publication Date





811 - 822


Animals, Cytosine, DNA, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Nucleic Acid Conformation, Ultraviolet Rays