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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jan 9;104(2):435-40. Epub 2006 Dec 29.

Internal conversion to the electronic ground state occurs via two distinct pathways for pyrimidine bases in aqueous solution.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Ohio State University, 100 West 18th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


The femtosecond transient absorption technique was used to study the relaxation of excited electronic states created by absorption of 267-nm light in all of the naturally occurring pyrimidine DNA and RNA bases in aqueous solution. The results reveal a surprising bifurcation of the initial excited-state population in <1 ps to two nonradiative decay channels within the manifold of singlet states. The first is the subpicosecond internal conversion channel first characterized in 2000. The second channel involves passage through a dark intermediate state assigned to a lowest-energy (1)npi* state. Approximately 10-50% of all photoexcited pyrimidine bases decay via the (1)npi* state, which has a lifetime of 10-150 ps. Three- to 6-fold-longer lifetimes are seen for pyrimidine nucleotides and nucleosides than for the corresponding free bases, revealing an unprecedented effect of ribosyl substitution on electronic energy relaxation. A small fraction of the (1)npi* population is proposed to undergo intersystem crossing to the lowest triplet state in competition with vibrational cooling, explaining the higher triplet yields observed for pyrimidine versus purine bases at room temperature. Some simple correlations exist between yields of the (1)npi* state and yields of some pyrimidine photoproducts, but more work is needed before the photochemical consequences of this state can be definitively determined. These findings lead to a dramatically different picture of electronic energy relaxation in single pyrimidine bases with important ramifications for understanding DNA photostability.

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