Dynamics of the excited-state hydrogen transfer in a (dG)·(dC) homopolymer: intrinsic photostability of DNA†
The intrinsic photostability of nucleic acids is intimately related to evolution of life, while its understanding at the molecular and electronic levels remains a challenge for modern science. Among the different decay pathways proposed in the last two decades, the excited-state hydrogen transfer between guanine–cytosine base pairs has been identified as an efficient non-reactive channel to dissipate the excess of energy provided by light absorption. The present work studies the dynamics of such phenomena taking place in a (dG)·(dC) B-DNA homopolymer in water solution using state-of-the-art molecular modelling and simulation methods. A dynamic effect that boosts the photostability of the inter-strand hydrogen atom transfers, inherent to the Watson–Crick base pairing, is unveiled and ascribed to the energy released during the proton transfer step. Our results also reveal a novel mechanism of DNA decay named four proton transfer (FPT), in which two protons of two adjacent G–C base pairs are transferred to form a biradical zwitterionic intermediate. Decay of the latter intermediate to the ground state triggers the transfer of the protons back to the guanine molecules recovering the Watson–Crick structure of the tetramer. This FPT process is activated by the close interaction of a nearby Na+ counterion with the oxygen atoms of the guanine nucleobases and hence represents a photostable channel operative in natural nucleic acids.