The anti-gene strategy is based on sequence-specific recognition of double-strand DNA by triplex forming (TFOs) or DNA strand invading oligonucleotides to modulate gene expression. To be efficient, the oligonucleotides (ONs) should target DNA selectively, with high affinity. Here we combined hybridization analysis and electrophoretic mobility shift assay with molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to better understand the underlying structural features of modified ONs in stabilizing duplex- and triplex structures. Particularly, we investigated the role played by the position and number of locked nucleic acid (LNA) substitutions in the ON when targeting a c-MYC or FXN (Frataxin) sequence. We found that LNA-containing single strand TFOs are conformationally pre-organized for major groove binding. Reduced content of LNA at consecutive positions at the 3'-end of a TFO destabilizes the triplex structure, whereas the presence of Twisted Intercalating Nucleic Acid (TINA) at the 3'-end of the TFO increases the rate and extent of triplex formation. A triplex-specific intercalating benzoquinoquinoxaline (BQQ) compound highly stabilizes LNA-containing triplex structures. Moreover, LNA-substitution in the duplex pyrimidine strand alters the double helix structure, affecting x-displacement, slide and twist favoring triplex formation through enhanced TFO major groove accommodation. Collectively, these findings should facilitate the design of potent anti-gene ONs.
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