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J Chem Phys. 2005 Feb 15;122(7):074316.

Excited states dynamics of DNA and RNA bases: characterization of a stepwise deactivation pathway in the gas phase.

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  • 1Laboratoire Francis Perrin, CNRS URA 2453, DRECAM-SPAM, CEA Saclay, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


Radiationless deactivation pathways of excited gas phase nucleobases were investigated using mass-selected femtosecond resolved pump-probe resonant ionization. By comparison between nucleobases and methylated species, in which tautomerism cannot occur, we can access intrinsic mechanisms at a time resolution never reported so far (80 fs). At this time resolution, and using appropriate substitution, real nuclear motion corresponding to active vibrational modes along deactivation coordinates can actually be probed. We provide evidence for the existence of a two-step decay mechanism, following a 267 nm excitation of the nucleobases. The time resolution achieved together with a careful zero time-delay calibration between lasers allow us to show that the first step does correspond to intrinsic dynamics rather than to a laser cross correlation. For adenine and 9-methyladenine a first decay component of about 100 fs has been measured. This first step is radically increased to 200 fs when the amino group hydrogen atoms of adenine are substituted by methyl groups. Our results could be rationalized according to the effect of the highly localized nature of the excitation combined to the presence of efficient deactivation pathway along both pyrimidine ring and amino group out-of-plane vibrational modes. These nuclear motions play a key role in the vibronic coupling between the initially excited pipi* and the dark npi* states. This seems to be the common mechanism that opens up the earlier phase of the internal conversion pathway which then, in consideration of the rather fast relaxation times observed, would probably proceed via conical intersection between the npi* relay state and high vibrational levels of the ground state.

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