"Unlike other DNA structures, the G-quadruplex structure is fairly brittle. It takes very little perturbation to make the whole thing fall apart," Stone said. "We also found that the unfolded state has a highly compacted conformation, which tells us that it still has interactions that favor the folding reaction."
These findings have implications for understanding the molecular mechanisms of telomere-associated proteins and enzymes involved in the unfolding reaction, as well as for rational design of anti-cancer drugs, Stone said. Small molecules that bind to and stabilize telomere DNA G-quadruplexes have shown promise as anti-cancer drugs.
The integration of fluorescence measurements and magnetic tweezers is a powerful method for monitoring DNA structural dynamics, and as biophysical techniques go, it is not hard to implement, Stone said. His lab worked with DNA molecules containing the G-quadruplex sequence from human telomere DNA, attaching one end of the DNA to a glass slide and the other end to a tiny magnetic bead. A magnet held above the sample pulled on the bead, exerting a stretching force on the DNA molecule that varied according to how close the magnet was to the sample.
At the same time, the researchers used a fluorescence technique called single-molecule FRET (Frster resonance energy transfer) to monitor small-scale structural changes in the DNA. "FRET can be thought of as a molecular ruler," Stone said. As energy from one fluorescent dye molecule is transferred to a second dye molecule, the efficiency of the energy transfer can be measured in real time. The dye molecules can be coupled directly to the DNA molecule at specific sites, allowing researchers to monitor the molecular dynamics of the system as it is being manipulated by the magnetic tweezers.
"You don't have to be a specialist to use this technique, so it can be easily transferred to other labs and broadly employed i
|Contact: Tim Stephens|
University of California - Santa Cruz