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Biochemistry. 2013 Dec 23;52(51):9275-85. doi: 10.1021/bi401312r. Epub 2013 Dec 11.

Base pair opening in a deoxynucleotide duplex containing a cis-syn thymine cyclobutane dimer lesion.

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Department of Chemistry, Mount Holyoke College , South Hadley, Massachusetts 01075, United States.


The cis-syn thymine cyclobutane dimer is a DNA photoproduct implicated in skin cancer. We compared the stability of individual base pairs in thymine dimer-containing duplexes to undamaged parent 10-mer duplexes. UV melting thermodynamic measurements, CD spectroscopy, and 2D NOESY NMR spectroscopy confirm that the thymine dimer lesion is locally and moderately destabilizing within an overall B-form duplex conformation. We measured the rates of exchange of individual imino protons by NMR using magnetization transfer from water and determined the equilibrium constant for the opening of each base pair K(op). In the normal duplex K(op) decreases from the frayed ends of the duplex toward the center, such that the central TA pair is the most stable with a K(op) of 8 × 10⁻⁷. In contrast, base pair opening at the 5'T of the thymine dimer is facile. The 5'T of the dimer has the largest equilibrium constant (K(op) = 3 × 10⁻⁴) in its duplex, considerably larger than even the frayed penultimate base pairs. Notably, base pairing by the 3'T of the dimer is much more stable than by the 5'T, indicating that the predominant opening mechanism for the thymine dimer lesion is not likely to be flipping out into solution as a single unit. The dimer asymmetrically affects the stability of the duplex in its vicinity, destabilizing base pairing on its 5' side more than on the 3' side. The striking differences in base pair opening between parent and dimer duplexes occur independently of the duplex-single strand melting transitions.

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