Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Committee Chair

Trent, John O.

Committee Member

Chaires, Jonathan B.

Committee Member

Bates, Paula J.

Committee Member

Darling, Douglas S.

Committee Member

Dean, William L.


Quadruplex nucleic acids; DNA


In the cell, guanine-rich nucleic acids can self-assemble into unique four stranded tertiary structures known as G-quadruplexes. G-quadruplex formation in the telomere leads inhibits telomerase, an enzyme activated in cancer cells to maintain the telomere and allowing for cancer cells to achieve immortality. G-quadruplex formation in the promoters and 5’-untranslated regions regulates the expression of many oncogenes. Furthermore, G-quadruplex formation during cellular replication promotes genomic instability, a characteristic which enables tumor development. Because of their implication in cancer, G-quadruplex structures have emerged as attractive drug targets for anti-tumor therapeutics. In the current dissertation work, we present three experimental approaches to investigate G-quadruplex structures, biophysical properties, small molecule interaction, and the thermodynamics of G-quadruplex formation. Current approaches to study G-quadruplex structures often employ sequence modifications or changes to the experimental condition, as a way of resolving the structural polymorphism associated with many G-quadruplex-forming sequences, to select for a single conformation for high-resolution structural studies. Our strategy for resolving G-quadruplex structural polymorphism is superior in that the experimental approaches do not result in drastic perturbation of the system. In the first approach, we employed size exclusion chromatography to separate a mixture of G-quadruplex structures formed from a G-quadruplex-forming sequence. We demonstrated that it is possible to isolate distinct species of G-quadruplex structures for further biophysical studies. In the second approach, we employed hydrodynamic bead modeling to study the structural polymorphism of a G-quadruplex-forming sequence. We showed that properties calculated from models agreed with experimentally determined values and could be used to predict the folding of G-quadruplex-forming oligonucleotides whose high-resolution structures are ambiguous or not available. In our third approach, we presented a virtual screening platform that was successful in identifying a new Gquadruplex-interacting small molecule. The results of the virtual screen were validated with extensive biophysical testing. Our target for the virtual screen was a G-quadruplex structure generated in silico, which represents one approach to receptor-based drug discovery when high-resolution structures of the binding site are not available. Taken together, our three approaches represent a new paradigm for drug discovery from guaninerich sequence to anti-cancer drugs.