Background: Telomeres in eukaryotic organisms are protein-DNA complexes which are essential for the protection and replication of chromosomal termini. The telomeric DNA of Tetrahymena consists of T2G4 repeats, and models have been previously proposed for the intramolecular folded structure of the d(T2G4)4 sequence based on chemical footprinting and cross-linking data. A high-resolution solution structure of this sequence would allow comparison with the structures of related G-tetraplexes.
Results: The solution structure of the Na(+)-stabilized d(T2G4)4 sequence has been determined using a combined NMR-molecular dynamics approach. The sequence folds intramolecularly into a right-handed G-tetraplex containing three stacked G-tetrads connected by linker segments consisting of a G-T-T-G lateral loop, a central T-T-G lateral loop and a T-T segment that spans the groove through a double chain reversal. The latter T-T connectivity aligns adjacent G-G-G segments in parallel and introduces a new G-tetraplex folding topology with unprecedented combinations of strand directionalities and groove widths, as well as guanine syn/anti distributions along individual strands and around individual G-tetrads.
Conclusions: The four repeat Tetrahymena and human G-tetraplexes, which differ by a single guanine for adenine substitution, exhibit strikingly different folding topologies. The observed structural polymorphism establishes that G-tetraplexes can adopt topologies which project distinctly different groove dimensions, G-tetrad base edges and linker segments for recognition by, and interactions with, other nucleic acids and proteins.