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Biochemistry. 2011 Feb 8;50(5):612-7. doi: 10.1021/bi101536k. Epub 2011 Jan 13.

Dynamics of uracil and 5-fluorouracil in DNA.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 725 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21205-2185, United States.


The prodrug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), after activation into 5-F-dUMP, is an extensively used anticancer agent that inhibits thymidylate synthase and leads to increases in dUTP and 5-F-dUTP levels in cells. One mechanism for 5-FU action involves DNA polymerase mediated incorporation of dUTP and 5-F-dUTP into genomic DNA leading to U/A, 5-FU/A, or 5-FU/G base pairs. These uracil-containing lesions are recognized and excised by several human uracil excision repair glycosylases (hUNG2, hSMUG2, and hTDG) leading to toxic abasic sites in DNA that may precipitate cell death. Each of these enzymes uses an extrahelical base recognition mechanism, and previous studies with UNG have shown that extrahelical recognition is facilitated by destabilized base pairs possessing kinetically enhanced base pair opening rates. Thus, the dynamic properties of base pairs containing 5-FU and U are an important unknown in understanding the role of these enzymes in damage recognition and prodrug activation. The pH dependence of the (19)F NMR chemical shift of 5-FU imbedded in a model trinucleotide was used to obtain a pK(a) = 8.1 for its imino proton (10 °C). This is about 1.5 units lower than the imino protons of uracil or thymine and indicates that at neutral pH 5-FU exists significantly as an ionized tautomer that can mispair with guanine during DNA replication. NMR imino proton exchange measurements show that U/A and 5-FU/A base pairs open with rate constants (k(op)) that are 6- and 13-fold faster than a T/A base pair in the same sequence context. In contrast, these same base pairs have apparent opening equilibrium constants (αK(op)) that differ by less than a factor of 2, indicating that the closing rates (k(cl)) are enhanced by nearly equal amounts as k(op). These dynamic measurements are consistent with the previously proposed kinetic trapping model for extrahelical recognition by UNG. In this model, the enhanced intrinsic opening rates of destabilized base pairs allow the bound glycosylase to sample dynamic extrahelical excursions of thymidine and uracil bases as the first step in recognition.

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