Structural dynamics and cation interactions of DNA quadruplex molecules containing mixed guanine/cytosine quartets revealed by large-scale MD simulations
Large-scale molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have been utilized to study G-DNA quadruplex molecules containing mixed GCGC and all-guanine GGGG quartet layers. Incorporation of mixed GCGC quartets into G-DNA stems substantially enhances their sequence variability. The mixed quadruplexes form rigid assemblies that require integral monovalent cations for their stabilization. The interaction of cations with the all-guanine quartets is the leading contribution for the stability of the four-stranded assemblies, while the mixed quartets are rather tolerated within the structure. The simulations predict that two cations are preferred to stabilize a four-layer quadruplex stem composed of two GCGC and two all-guanine quartets. The distribution of cations in the structure is influenced by the position of the GCGC quartets within the quadruplex, the presence and arrangement of thymidine loops connecting the guanine/cytosine stretches forming the stems, and the cation type present (Na+ or K+). The simulations identify multiple nanosecond-scale stable arrangements of the thymidine loops present in the molecules investigated. In these thymidine loops, several structured pockets are identified capable of temporarily coordinating cations. However, no stable association of cations to a loop has been observed. The simulations reveal several paths through the thymidine loop regions that can be followed by the cations when exchanging between the central ion channel in the quadruplex stem and the surrounding solvent. We have carried out 20 independent simulations while the length of simulations reaches a total of 90 ns,rendering this study one of the most extensive MD investigations carried out on nucleic acids so far. The trajectories provide a largely converged characterization of the structural dynamics of these four-stranded G-DNA molecules.