Conformational plasticity of DNA secondary structures: probing the conversion between i-motif and hairpin species by circular dichroism and ultraviolet resonance Raman spectroscopies†
The promoter regions of important oncogenes such as BCL2 and KRAS contain GC-rich sequences that can form distinctive noncanonical DNA structures involved in the regulation of transcription: G-quadruplexes on the G-rich strand and i-motifs on the C-rich strand. Interestingly, BCL2 and KRAS promoter i-motifs are highly dynamic in nature and exist in a pH-dependent equilibrium with hairpin and even with hybrid i-motif/hairpin species. Herein, the effects of pH and presence of cell-mimicking molecular crowding conditions on conformational equilibria of the BCL2 and KRAS i-motif-forming sequences were investigated by ultraviolet resonance Raman (UVRR) and circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopies. Multivariate analysis of CD data was essential to model the presence and identity of the species involved. Analysis of UVRR spectra measured as a function of pH, performed also by the two-dimensional correlation spectroscopy (2D-COS) technique, showed the role of several functional groups in the DNA conformational transitions, and provided structural and dynamic information. Thus, the UVRR investigation of intramolecular interactions and of local and environmental dynamics in promoting the different species induced by the solution conditions provided valuable insights into i-motif conformational transitions. The combined use of the two spectroscopic tools is emphasized by the relevant possibility of working in the same DNA concentration range and by the heterospectral UVRR/CD 2D-COS analysis. The results of this study shed light on the factors that can influence at the molecular level the equilibrium between the different conformational species putatively involved in the oncogene expression.