The triplet repeat sequence (CAG)n and related triplet repeats are associated with dynamic DNA mutations implicated in a number of debilitating human diseases. To gain insight into the dynamics of the (CAG)n repeat, we have substituted a single 2-aminopurine (2AP) fluorescent base for adenine at select positions within the 18 base looped domain of a (GC) 3(CAG)6(GC)3 hairpin oligonucleotide. Using temperature-dependent steady-state fluorescence measurements in combination with time correlated photon counting spectroscopy, we show the conformation and dynamics of the C2APG domains to be strongly dependent on the position of the probe in the looped region. In other words, rather than being a uniform, single stranded loop, the (CAG)6 triplet repeat looped domain exhibits order and dynamics that are position dependent. The 2AP fluorescence dynamics within the C2APG repeat are well described by a 4 component exponential decay model, with lifetimes ranging from 5 ps to 4 ns. Differences in global DNA conformation (duplex, hairpin, single strand), as well as the local position of the probe within the loop of a given hairpin, predominantly are reflected in the relative amplitude rather than the lifetime of the probe. The time dependent 2AP anisotropy in the hairpin (CAG)n loops is sensitive to the position of the fluorescent base, with the fluorescence depolarization of a centrally located 2AP probe within the loop proceeding significantly more slowly than 2AP positioned at the 5′- or 3′-end of the repeat sequence near the loop-stem junction. These results are consistent with segmental motions of the CAG repeat, while also suggesting that the 2AP probe is significantly stacked, possibly even hydrogen bonded, within the partially structured CAG looped domain. Our results characterize the position-dependent and conformation- dependent dynamics and order within (CAG)n triplet repeat DNAs, properties of relevance to the biological mechanisms by which such domains can lead to disease states.
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