Sequence length dictates repeated CAG folding in three-way junctions

ACS Citation

Degtyareva, N. N.; Barber, C. A.; Reddish, M. J.; Petty, J. T. Sequence length dictates repeated CAG folding in three-way junctions. Biochemistry 2011, 50, 458-65.


The etiology of a large class of inherited neurological diseases is founded on hairpin structures adopted by repeated DNA sequences, and this folding is determined by base sequence and DNA context. Using single substitutions of adenine with 2-aminopurine, we show that intrastrand folding in repeated CAG trinucleotides is also determined by the number of repeats. This isomeric analogue has a fluorescence quantum yield that varies strongly with solvent exposure, thereby distinguishing particular DNA motifs. Prior studies demonstrated that (CAG)(8) alone favors a stem-loop hairpin, yet the same sequence adopts an open loop conformation in a three-way junction. This comparison suggests that repeat folding is disrupted by base pairing in the duplex arms and by purine-purine mismatches in the repeat stem. However, these perturbations are overcome in longer CAG repeats, as demonstrated by studies of isolated and integrated forms of (CAG)(15). The oligonucleotide alone forms a symmetrically folded hairpin with looplike properties exhibited by the relatively high emission intensities from a modification in the central eighth repeat and with stemlike properties evident from the relatively low emission intensities from peripheral modifications. Significantly, these hairpin properties are retained when (CAG)(15) is integrated into a duplex. Intrastrand folding by (CAG)(15) in the three-way junction contrasts with the open loop adopted by (CAG)(8) in the analogous context. This distinction suggests that cooperative interactions in longer repeat tracts overwhelm perturbations to reassert the natural folding propensity. Given that anomalously long repeats are the genetic basis of a large class of inherited neurological diseases, studies with (CAG)-based three-way junctions suggest that their secondary structure is a key factor in the length-dependent manifestation and progression of such diseases.

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