Structure and Dynamics of DNA and RNA Double Helices Obtained from the CCG and GGC Trinucleotide Repeats

Expansions of both GGC and CCG sequences lead to a number of expandable, trinucleotide repeat (TR) neurodegenerative diseases. Understanding of these diseases involves, among other things, the structural characterization of the atypical DNA and RNA secondary structures. We have performed molecular dynamics simulations of (GCC)n and (GGC)n homoduplexes in order to characterize their conformations, stability, and dynamics. Each TR has two reading frames, which results in eight nonequivalent RNA/DNA homoduplexes, characterized by CpG or GpC steps between the Watson–Crick base pairs. Free energy maps for the eight homoduplexes indicate that the C-mismatches prefer anti–anti conformations, while G-mismatches prefer anti–syn conformations. Comparison between three modifications of the DNA AMBER force field shows good agreement for the mismatch free energy maps. The mismatches in DNA-GCC (but not CCG) are extrahelical, forming an extended e-motif. The mismatched duplexes exhibit characteristic sequence-dependent step twist, with strong variations in the G-rich sequences and the e-motif. The distribution of Na+ is highly localized around the mismatches, especially G-mismatches. In the e-motif, there is strong Na+ binding by two G­(N7) atoms belonging to the pseudo GpC step created when cytosines are extruded and by extrahelical cytosines. Finally, we used a novel technique based on fast melting by means of an infrared laser pulse to classify the relative stability of the different DNA-CCG and -GGC homoduplexes.