The Contribution of the Activation Entropy to the Gas-Phase Stability of Modified Nucleic Acid Duplexes

J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2016 Jul;27(7):1186-96. doi: 10.1007/s13361-016-1391-3. Epub 2016 Apr 14.


Tricyclo-DNA (tcDNA) is a sugar-modified analogue of DNA currently tested for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in an antisense approach. Tandem mass spectrometry plays a key role in modern medical diagnostics and has become a widespread technique for the structure elucidation and quantification of antisense oligonucleotides. Herein, mechanistic aspects of the fragmentation of tcDNA are discussed, which lay the basis for reliable sequencing and quantification of the antisense oligonucleotide. Excellent selectivity of tcDNA for complementary RNA is demonstrated in direct competition experiments. Moreover, the kinetic stability and fragmentation pattern of matched and mismatched tcDNA heteroduplexes were investigated and compared with non-modified DNA and RNA duplexes. Although the separation of the constituting strands is the entropy-favored fragmentation pathway of all nucleic acid duplexes, it was found to be only a minor pathway of tcDNA duplexes. The modified hybrid duplexes preferentially undergo neutral base loss and backbone cleavage. This difference is due to the low activation entropy for the strand dissociation of modified duplexes that arises from the conformational constraint of the tc-sugar-moiety. The low activation entropy results in a relatively high free activation enthalpy for the dissociation comparable to the free activation enthalpy of the alternative reaction pathway, the release of a nucleobase. The gas-phase behavior of tcDNA duplexes illustrates the impact of the activation entropy on the fragmentation kinetics and suggests that tandem mass spectrometric experiments are not suited to determine the relative stability of different types of nucleic acid duplexes. Graphical Abstract ᅟ.

Keywords: Activation entropy; Antisense; Duplex DNA; Modified DNA; Tandem mass spectrometry.

MeSH terms

  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Entropy
  • Kinetics
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • RNA
  • Thermodynamics


  • RNA
  • DNA