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Footprints of Nanoscale DNA–Silver Cluster Chromophores via Activated-Electron Photodetachment Mass Spectrometry

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journal contribution
posted on 27.11.2019, 14:34 authored by Molly S. Blevins, Dahye Kim, Christopher M. Crittenden, Soonwoo Hong, Hsin-Chih Yeh, Jeffrey T. Petty, Jennifer S. Brodbelt
DNA-templated silver clusters (AgC) are fluorescent probes and biosensors whose electronic spectra can be tuned by their DNA hosts. However, the underlying rules that relate DNA sequence and structure to DNA-AgC fluorescence and photophysics are largely empirical. Here, we employ 193 nm activated electron photodetachment (a-EPD) mass spectrometry as a hybrid MS3 approach to gain structural insight into these nanoscale chromophores. Two DNA-AgC systems are investigated with a 20 nt single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) and a 28 nt hybrid hairpin/single-stranded DNA (hpDNA). Both oligonucleotides template Ag10 clusters, but the two complexes are distinct chromophores: the former has a violet absorption at 400 nm with no observable emission, while the latter has a blue-green absorption at 490 nm with strong green emission at 550 nm. Via identification of both apo and holo (AgC-containing) sequence ions generated upon a-EPD and mapping areas of sequence dropout, specific DNA regions that encapsulate the AgC are assigned and attributed to the coordination with the DNA nucleobases. These a-EPD footprints are distinct for the two complexes. The ssDNA contacts the cluster via four nucleobases (CCTT) in the central region of the strand, whereas the hpDNA coordinates the cluster via 13 nucleobases (TTCCCGCCTTTTG) in the double-stranded region of the hairpin. This difference is consistent with prior X-ray scattering spectra and suggests that the clusters can adapt to different DNA hosts. More importantly, the a-EPD footprints directly identify the nucleobases that are in direct contact with the AgC. As these contacting nucleobases can tune the electronic structures of the Ag core and protect the AgC from collisional quenching in solution, understanding the DNA–silver contacts within these complexes will facilitate future biosensor designs.