A series of four hairpin deoxyoligonucleotides was synthesized with a four-nucleotide central loop (either C or G) flanked by the complementary sequences d(T)10 and d(A)10. Two of the molecules contain either a 3'-p-3' or 5'-p-5' linkage in the loop, so that the strands in the stem have the same, that is, parallel (ps) polarity. The pair of reference oligonucleotides have normal phosphodiester linkages throughout and antiparallel (aps) stem regions. All the molecules adopt a duplex helical structure in that (i) the electrophoretic mobilities in polyacrylamide gels of the ps and aps oligomers are similar. (ii) The ps hairpins are substrates for T4 polynucleotide kinase, T4 DNA ligase, and Escherichia coli exonuclease III. (iii) Salt-dependent thermal transitions are observed for all hairpins, but the ps molecules denature 10 degrees C lower than the corresponding aps oligomers. (iv) The ultraviolet absorption and circular dichroism spectra are indicative of a base-paired duplex in the stems of the ps hairpins but differ systematically from those of the aps counterparts. (v) The bis-benzimidazole drug Hoechst-33258, which binds in the minor groove of B-DNA, exhibits very little fluorescence in the presence of the ps hairpins but a normal, enhanced emission with the aps oligonucleotides. In contrast, the intercalator ethidium bromide forms a strongly fluorescent complex with all hairpins, the intensity of which is even higher for the ps species. (vi) The pattern of chemical methylation is the same for both the ps and aps hairpins. The combined results are consistent with the prediction from force field analysis of a parallel stranded right-handed helical form of d(A)n.d(T)n with a secondary structure involving reverse Watson-Crick base pairs and a stability not significantly different from that of the B-DNA double helix. Models of the various hairpins optimized with force field calculations are described.

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