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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Dec 13;102(50):17903-6. Epub 2005 Dec 5.

Tautomeric selectivity of the excited-state lifetime of guanine/cytosine base pairs: the role of electron-driven proton-transfer processes.

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  • 1Institute of Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw.


The UV spectra of three different conformers of the guanine/cytosine base pair were recorded recently with UV-IR double-resonance techniques in a supersonic jet [Abo-Riziq, A., Grace, L., Nir, E., Kabelac, M., Hobza, P. & de Vries, M. S. (2005) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 102, 20-23]. The spectra provide evidence for a very efficient excited-state deactivation mechanism that is specific for the Watson-Crick structure and may be essential for the photostability of DNA. Here we report results of ab initio electronic-structure calculations for the excited electronic states of the three lowest-energy conformers of the guanine/cytosine base pair. The calculations reveal that electron-driven interbase proton-transfer processes play an important role in the photochemistry of these systems. The exceptionally short lifetime of the UV-absorbing states of the Watson-Crick conformer is tentatively explained by the existence of a barrierless reaction path that connects the spectroscopic (1)pi pi * excited state with the electronic ground state via two electronic curve crossings. For the non-Watson-Crick structures, the photochemically reactive state is located at higher energies, resulting in a barrier for proton transfer and, thus, a longer lifetime of the UV-absorbing (1)pi pi * state. The computational results support the conjecture that the photochemistry of hydrogen bonds plays a decisive role for the photostability of the molecular encoding of the genetic information in isolated DNA base pairs.

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