DNA i-Motifs With Guanidino-i-Clamp Residues: The Counterplay Between Kinetics and Thermodynamics and Implications for the Design of pH Sensors
Applied science exploits the advantages of i-motif stabilization under acidic conditions: i-motif-based pH sensors and other biocompatible nanodevices are being developed. Two key characteristics of i-motifs as core elements of nanodevices, i.e., their stability under physiological conditions and folding/unfolding rates, still need to be improved. We have previously reported a phenoxazine derivative (i-clamp) that enhances the thermal stability of the i-motif and shifts the pH transition point closer to physiological values. Here, we performed i-clamp guanidinylation to further explore the prospects of clamp-like modifications in i-motif fine-tuning. Based on molecular modeling data, we concluded that clamp guanidinylation facilitated interstrand interactions in an i-motif core and ultimately stabilized the i-motif structure. We tested the effects of guanidino-i-clamp insertions on the thermal stabilities of genomic and model i-motifs. We also investigated the folding/unfolding kinetics of native and modified i-motifs under moderate, physiologically relevant pH alterations. We demonstrated fast folding/unfolding of native genomic and model i-motifs in response to pH stimuli. This finding supports the concept of i-motifs as possible genomic regulatory elements and encourages the future design of rapid-response pH probes based on such structures. Incorporation of guanidino-i-clamp residues at/near the 5′-terminus of i-motifs dramatically decreased the apparent unfolding rates and increased the thermal stabilities of the structures. This counterplay between the effects of modifications on i-motif stability and their effects on kinetics should be taken into account in the design of pH sensors.