Non-canonical base pairs and higher order structures in nucleic acids: crystal structure database analysis

J Biomol Struct Dyn. 2006 Oct;24(2):149-61. doi: 10.1080/07391102.2006.10507108.


Non-canonical base pairs, mostly present in the RNA, often play a prominent role towards maintaining their structural diversity. Higher order structures like base triples are also important in defining and stabilizing the tertiary folded structure of RNA. We have developed a new program BPFIND to analyze different types of canonical and non-canonical base pairs and base triples involving at least two direct hydrogen bonds formed between polar atoms of the bases or sugar O2' only. We considered 104 possible types of base pairs, out of which examples of 87 base pair types are found to occur in the available RNA crystal structures. Analysis indicates that approximately 32.7% base pairs in the functional RNA structures are non-canonical, which include different types of GA and GU Wobble base pairs apart from a wide range of base pair possibilities. We further noticed that more than 10.4% of these base pairs are involved in triplet formation, most of which play important role in maintaining long-range tertiary contacts in the three-dimensional folded structure of RNA. Apart from detection, the program also gives a quantitative estimate of the conformational deformation of detected base pairs in comparison to an ideal planar base pair. This helps us to gain insight into the extent of their structural variations and thus assists in understanding their specific role towards structural and functional diversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Base Pairing / physiology*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Databases, Nucleic Acid*
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • RNA / chemistry*


  • RNA