Raman spectroscopy of DNA-metal complexes. I. Interactions and conformational effects of the divalent cations: Mg, Ca, Sr, Ba, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Pd, and Cd

Biophys J. 1993 Nov;65(5):1916-28. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(93)81263-3.


Interactions of divalent metal cations (Mg2+, Ca2+, Ba2+, Sr2+, Mn2+, Co2+, Ni2+, Cu2+, Pd2+, and Cd2+) with DNA have been investigated by laser Raman spectroscopy. Both genomic calf-thymus DNA (> 23 kilobase pairs) and mononucleosomal fragments (160 base pairs) were employed as targets of metal interaction in solutions containing 5 weight-% DNA and metal:phosphate molar ratios of 0.6:1. Raman difference spectra reveal that transition metal cations (Mn2+, Co2+, Ni2+, Cu2+, Pd2+, and Cd2+) induce the greatest structural changes in B-DNA. The Raman (vibrational) band differences are extensive and indicate partial disordering of the B-form backbone, reduction in base stacking, reduction in base pairing, and specific metal interaction with acceptor sites on the purine (N7) and pyrimidine (N3) rings. Many of the observed spectral changes parallel those accompanying thermal denaturation of B-DNA and suggest that the metals link the bases of denatured DNA. While exocyclic carbonyls of dT, dG, and dC may stabilize metal ligation, correlation plots show that perturbations of the carbonyls are mainly a consequence of metal-induced denaturation of the double helix. Transition metal interactions with the DNA phosphates are weak in comparison to interactions with the bases, except in the case of Cu2+, which strongly perturbs both base and phosphate group vibrations. On the other hand, the Raman signature of B-DNA is largely unperturbed by Mg2+, Ca2+, Sr2+, and Ba2+, suggesting much weaker interactions of the alkaline earth metals with both base and phosphate sites. A notable exception is a moderate perturbation by alkaline earths of purine N7 sites in 160-base pair DNA, with Ca2+ causing the greatest effect. Correlation plots demonstrate a strong interrelationship between perturbations of Raman bands assigned to ring vibrations of the bases and those of bands assigned to exocyclic carbonyls and backbone phosphodiester groups. However, strong correlations do not occur between the Raman phosphodioxy band (centered near 1092 cm-1) and other Raman bands, suggesting that the former is not highly sensitive to the structural changes induced by divalent metal cations. The structural perturbations induced by divalent cations are much greater for > 23-kilobase pair DNA than for 160-base pair DNA, as evidenced by both the Raman difference spectra and the tendency toward the formation of insoluble aggregates. In the presence of transition metals, aggregation of high-molecular-weight DNA is evident at temperatures as low as 11 degrees C. A relationship between DNA melting and aggregation is proposed in which initial metal binding at major groove sites locally destabilizes the B-DNA double helix, causing displacement of the bases away from one another and exposing additional metal binding sites. Metal cation linkage of two displaced bases would allow separate DNA strands to crosslink. Aggregation is proposed to result from the formation of an extended network of these crosslinks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Cations, Divalent / chemistry*
  • Cattle
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Metals / chemistry
  • Metals, Alkaline Earth / chemistry
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman


  • Cations, Divalent
  • Metals
  • Metals, Alkaline Earth
  • DNA