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The single-stranded (TTAGGG)n tail of human telomeric DNA is known to form stable G-quadruplex structures. Optimal telomerase activity requires the nonfolded single-stranded form of the primer, and stabilization of the G-quadruplex form is known to interfere with telomerase binding. We have identified 3,4,9, 10-perylenetetracarboxylic diimide-based ligands as potent inhibitors of human telomerase by using a primer extension assay that does not use PCR-based amplification of the telomerase primer extension products. A set of NMR titrations of the ligand into solutions of G-quadruplexes using various oligonucleotides related to human telomeric DNA showed strong and specific binding of the ligand to the G-quadruplex. The exchange rate between bound and free DNA forms is slow on the NMR time scale and allows the unequivocal determination of the binding site and mode of binding. In the case of the 5'-TTAGGG sequence, the ligand-DNA complex consists of two quadruplexes oriented in a tail-to-tail manner with the ligand sandwiched between terminal G4 planes. Longer telomeric sequences, such as TTAGGGTT, TTAGGGTTA, and TAGGGTTA, form 1:1 ligand-quadruplex complexes with the ligand bound at the GT step by a threading intercalation mode. On the basis of 2D NOESY data, a model of the latter complex has been derived that is consistent with the available experimental data. The determination of the solution structure of this telomerase inhibitor bound to telomeric quadruplex DNA should help in the design of new anticancer agents with a unique and novel mechanism of action.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





12367 - 12374


Anthracenes, Binding Sites, Circular Dichroism, DNA, Enzyme Inhibitors, G-Quadruplexes, Guanine, Humans, Intercalating Agents, Ligands, Models, Molecular, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular, Nucleic Acid Conformation, Oligodeoxyribonucleotides, Perylene, Piperidines, Telomerase, Thymine