Alternating (C-T)n sequences are involved in the H-DNA structure associated with (GA)n. (CT)n sequences. Low pH values facilitate H-DNA formation. We have undertaken a detailed analysis of the structural consequences of the (C-T)n sequence as a function of pH. The structures of three DNA oligonucleotides, d(CT)4, d(TC)4 and d(TC)15, have been studied by NMR. We found that their conformations are polymorphic and pH dependent. There are at least three major conformational species: an antiparallel-stranded (APS) duplex with entirely C:T base pairs at pH 7, an antiparallel-stranded (APS) duplex with entirely C+:T base pairs at pH 3, and a possible parallel-stranded (PS) duplex with C+:C and T:T base pairs near pH 5. In the intermediate pH range, the APS duplex may have varying numbers of C+:T and C:T base pairs, and there may be a fast exchange going on between APS duplex species involving these two kinds of base pairs. However, the transition between the APS and PS duplexes is slow. Structural refinement of the two octamers, d(TC)4 and d(CT)4, at pH = 6.9 and pH = 3 using 2D-NOE data suggests that the molecules are likely in the duplex form at 5°C. We lack evidence that the structure at pH 3 is a PS structure with T nucleotides residing in the exterior of the helix. Titration of the longer oligonucleotide, d(TC)15, showed a prominent pKa of ̃6, approaching the value of 7.0 obtained from the titration of poly-(dC).
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