Racemic phosphorothioate as a tool for NMR investigations of protein-DNA complexes

Ridvan Nepravishta, Channing C. Pletka, Junji Iwahara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A major driving force for protein-nucleic acid association is electrostatic interactions via ion pairs of the positively charged basic side chains and negatively charged phosphates. For a better understanding of how proteins scan DNA and recognize particular signatures, it is important to gain atomic-level insight into the behavior of basic side chains at the protein-DNA interfaces. NMR spectroscopy is a powerful tool for investigating the structural, dynamic, and kinetic aspects of protein-DNA interactions. However, resonance assignment of basic side-chain cationic moieties at the molecular interfaces remains to be a major challenge. Here, we propose a fast, robust, and inexpensive approach that greatly facilitates resonance assignment of interfacial moieties and also allows for kinetic measurements of protein translocation between two DNA duplexes. This approach utilizes site-specific incorporation of racemic phosphorothioate at the position of a phosphate that interacts with a protein side chain. This modification retains the electric charge of phosphate and therefore is mild, but causes significant chemical shift perturbations for the proximal protein side chains, which facilitates resonance assignment. Due to the racemic nature of the modification, two different chemical shifts are observed for the species with different diastereomers RP and SP of the incorporated phosphorothioate group. Kinetic information on the exchange of the protein molecule between RP and SP DNA duplexes can be obtained by 15Nz exchange spectroscopy. We demonstrate the applications of this approach to the Antennapedia homeodomain–DNA complex and the CREB1 basic leucine-zipper (bZIP)–DNA complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-429
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biomolecular NMR
Issue number8-9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Arginine
  • Ion pairs
  • Kinetics
  • Protein-nucleic acid interactions
  • Side chains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Spectroscopy


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