The Effect of Molecular Crowding with Nucleotide Length and Cosolute Structure on DNA Duplex Stability

The thermodynamics of DNA duplex structures in the presence of high concentrations of cosolutes in solution were investigated to discern nucleic acid structures and functions in living cells. In the presence of ethylene glycol (EG) and poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) (MW = 200−8000), the stability of the oligomer DNA duplexes with differing nucleotide length varied, depending on the nucleotide length as well as the size of PEG. It was also revealed that the decrease of water activity is the primary factor for destabilization of the short (8-mer) duplex by addition of high molecular weight PEGs as well as low molecular weight PEGs and other low molecular weight cosolutes. In addition, the number of water molecules taken up per base pair formation was the same for all the PEGs and for 1,2-dimethoxyethane, which was greater than in the cases of glycerol, EG, 1,3-propanediol, and 2-methoxyethanol, suggesting that the solvation of nucleotides may differ, depending on the cosolute structure. These findings are useful not only for understanding nucleic acid structures and functions in cells but also for the design of oligonucleotides applicable for cells, such as antisense nucleic acids, RNAi, and DNA chips.