The most potent tumorigen identified among the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) is the nonplanar fjord region dibenzo[a,l]pyrene (DB[a,l]P). It is metabolically activated in vivo through the widely studied diol epoxide (DE) pathway to form covalent adducts with DNA bases, predominantly guanine and adenine. The (+)-11S,12R,13R,14S DE enantiomer forms adducts via its C14 position with the exocyclic amino group of guanine. Here, we present the first nuclear magnetic resonance solution structure of a DB[a,l]P-derived adduct, the 14R-(+)-trans-anti-DB[a,l]P-N2-dG (DB[a,l]P-dG) lesion in double-stranded DNA. In contrast to the stereochemically identical benzo[a]pyrene-derived N2-dG adduct (B[a]P-dG) in which the B[a]P rings reside in the B-DNA minor groove on the 3′-side of the modifed deoxyguanosine, in the DB[a,l]P-derived adduct the DB[a,l]P rings intercalate into the duplex on the 3′-side of the modified base from the sterically crowded minor groove. Watson-Crick base pairing of the modified guanine with the partner cytosine is broken, but these bases retain some stacking with the bulky DB[a,l]P ring system. This new theme in PAH DE-DNA adduct conformation differs from (1) the classical intercalation motif in which Watson-Crick base pairing is intact at the lesion site and (2) the base-displaced intercalation motif in which the damaged base and its partner are extruded from the helix. The structural considerations that lead to the intercalated conformation of the DB[a,l]P-dG lesion in contrast to the minor groove alignment of the B[a]P-dG adduct, and the implications of the DB[a,l]P-dG conformational motif for the recognition of such DNA lesions by the human nucleotide excision repair apparatus, are discussed.
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