Base-pair opening and closing reactions in the double helix. A stopped-flow hydrogen exchange study in poly(rA) · poly(rU)

Chhabinath Mandal, Neville R. Kallenbach, S. Walter Englander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The hydrogen-deuterium exchange of AMP, uridine, poly(rA), and poly(rA) · poly(rU) was investigated by a spectral difference method using stopped-flow spectrophotometry. Proton exchange rates were measured as a function of pH, added catalysts, temperature and salt concentration. The results confirm and extend previous conclusions on the H-exchange chemistry of the bases, on the large equilibrium opening of the double helix, and on its slow opening and closing rates, but an alternative conformation for the major open state is considered. Two H-exchange rate classes are found in poly(rA) · poly(rU). The slower class represents the two exocyclic amino protons of A which exchange through a pre-equilibrium opening mechanism, therefore revealing the fraction of time the helix is open. Base-pairs are open 5% of the time at 25 °C. The faster class is assigned to the U-N-3 H proton, the rate of which is limited by helix opening. Both opening and reclosing of the duplex are slow, 2 s-1 and 40 s-1, respectively, at 25 °C. Thermodynamic parameters for the equilibrium helix opening and for the rate of opening were determined. These properties may be consistent with a simple opening involving swinging out of the U base while retaining A more or less stacked within the duplex. The results demonstrate that no faster or more populated helix-open state occurs (when structure is stable). It appears that, unlike opening-closing reactions at a helix end or a helix-coil boundary, internal base opening and closing are innately slow. One implication of this is that any chemical or biological process requiring access to sequences in the interior of a closed stable DNA duplex may be constrained to proceed only on a time scale of seconds, and not in milliseconds or microseconds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-411
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 5 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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