Role of Alkali Metal Ions in G-Quadruplex Nucleic Acid Structure and Stability

Met Ions Life Sci. 2016;16:203-58. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-21756-7_7.


G-quadruplexes are guanine-rich nucleic acids that fold by forming successive quartets of guanines (the G-tetrads), stabilized by intra-quartet hydrogen bonds, inter-quartet stacking, and cation coordination. This specific although highly polymorphic type of secondary structure deviates significantly from the classical B-DNA duplex. G-quadruplexes are detectable in human cells and are strongly suspected to be involved in a number of biological processes at the DNA and RNA levels. The vast structural polymorphism exhibited by G-quadruplexes, together with their putative biological relevance, makes them attractive therapeutic targets compared to canonical duplex DNA. This chapter focuses on the essential and specific coordination of alkali metal cations by G-quadruplex nucleic acids, and most notably on studies highlighting cation-dependent dissimilarities in their stability, structure, formation, and interconversion. Section 1 surveys G-quadruplex structures and their interactions with alkali metal ions while Section 2 presents analytical methods used to study G-quadruplexes. The influence of alkali cations on the stability, structure, and kinetics of formation of G-quadruplex structures of quadruplexes will be discussed in Sections 3 and 4. Section 5 focuses on the cation-induced interconversion of G-quadruplex structures. In Sections 3 to 5, we will particularly emphasize the comparisons between cations, most often K(+) and Na(+) because of their prevalence in the literature and in cells.

Keywords: DNA; Folding; G-quadruplex; G-quartet; Interconversion; Metal ions; Methods; RNA; Stability; Structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cations
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • G-Quadruplexes*
  • Metals, Alkali / chemistry*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • RNA / chemistry*


  • Cations
  • Metals, Alkali
  • RNA
  • DNA