Human telomeric RNA has been identified as a key component of the telomere machinery. Recently, the growing evidence suggests that the telomeric RNA forms G-quadruplex structures to play an important role in telomere protection and regulation. In the present studies, we developed a 19F NMR spectroscopy method to investigate the telomeric RNA G-quadruplex structures in vitro and in living cells. We demonstrated that the simplicity and sensitivity of 19F NMR approach can be used to directly observe the dimeric and two-subunits stacked G-quadruplexes in vitro and in living cells and quantitatively characterize the thermodynamic properties of the G-quadruplexes. By employing the 19F NMR in living cell experiment, we confirmed for the first time that the higher-order G-quadruplex exists in cells. We further demonstrated that telomere RNA G-quadruplexes are converted to the higher-order G-quadruplex under molecular crowding condition, a cell-like environment. We also show that the higher-order G-quadruplex has high thermal stability in crowded solutions. The finding provides new insight into the structural behavior of telomere RNA G-quadruplex in living cells. These results open new avenues for the investigation of G-quadruplex structures in vitro and in living cells.
© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.