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Formation of the double helix: a mutational study

Majlessi, Mehrdad, Becker, Michael M.
Nucleic acids research 2008 v.36 no.9 pp. 2981-2989
DNA, RNA, chemical elements, hybridization, hybrids, melting point, mutants, mutation, oligodeoxyribonucleotides, temperature
To investigate the mechanisms by which oligonucleotides hybridize to target molecules, the binding of two oligodeoxynucleotide probes to RNA targets was measured over a broad range of temperatures. Mutations were then scanned across each DNA/RNA hybrid to map, at single base resolution, sequences important for hybridization. Despite being unrelated in sequence, each hybrid formed by a similar mechanism. In the absence of secondary structure, two stretches of bases, termed nucleation regions, cooperated with one another by a looping mechanism to nucleate hybridization. Mutations inside each nucleation region strongly decreased hybridization rates, even at temperatures well below the melting temperature (Tm) of the hybridized duplex. Surprisingly, nucleation regions were detected in a RNA target but not a corresponding DNA target. When either nucleation region was sequestered in secondary structure, the hybridization rate fell and the mechanism of hybridization changed. Single-stranded bases within the nucleation region of the probe and target first collided to form a double helix. If sufficiently G + C rich, the double helix then propagated throughout the oligonucleotide by a strand invasion process. On the basis of these results, general mechanisms for the hybridization of oligonucleotides to complementary and mutant targets are proposed.