Symmetry and structure of RNA and DNA triple helices

Raghunathan, G. ; Todd Miles, H. ; Sasisekharan, V. (1995) Symmetry and structure of RNA and DNA triple helices Biopolymers, 36 (3). pp. 333-343. ISSN 0006-3525

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Despite wide interest in nucleic acid triple helices, there has beenno stereochemically satisfactory structure of an RNA triple helixin atomic detail. An RNA triplex structure has previously been proposed based on fiber diffraction and molecular modeling [S. Arnott and P. J. Bond (1973) Nature New Biology, Vol. 244. pp. 99-101; S. Arnott. P. J. Bond. E. Seising, and P. J. C. Smith (1976) Nucleic Acids Research, Vol. 3. pp.2459-2470], but it has nonallowed close contacts at every triplet and is therefore not stereochemically acceptable. We propose here a new modelfor an RNA triple helix in which the three chains have identical backbone conformations and are symmetry related. There are no short contacts. The modeling employs a novel geometrical approach using the linked atom least squares [P. J. C. Smith and S. Arnott (1978) Acta Crystallographica, Vol. A34, pp. 3-11] program and is not based on energy minimization. In general, the method leads to a range of possible structures rather than a unique structure. In the present case, however, the constraints resulting from theintroduction of a third strand limit the possible structures to a very small range of conformation space. This method was used previously to obtain a model for DNA triple helices [G. Raghunathan, H. T. Miles, and V. Sasisekharan (1993) Biochemistry, Vol. 32, pp. 455-462], subsequently confirmed by fiber-type x-ray diffraction of oligomeric crystals [K. Liu. H. T. Miles. K. D. Parris, and V. Sasisekharan (1994) Nature Structural Biology, Vol. 1. pp. 11-12]. The above triple helices have Watson-Crick-Hoogsteen [K. Hoogsteen (1963) Acta Crystallographica, Vol. 16. pp. 907-916] pairing of the three bases. The same modeling method was used to investigate the feasibility of three-dimensional structures based on the three possible alternative hydrogen-bonding schemes: Watson-Crick-reverse Hoogsteen, Donogue [J. Donohue (1953) Proceeding of the national Academy of Science USA, Vol. 39, pp. 470-475] (reverse Watson-Crick)-Hoogsteen, and Donohue-reverse Hoogsteen. We found that none of these can occur in either RNA or DNA helices because they give rise only to structures with prohibitively short contacts between backbone and base atoms in the same chain.

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