A simple fluorescence method for pKa determination in RNA and DNA reveals highly shifted pKa's

Jennifer L. Wilcox, Philip C. Bevilacqua

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Charged nucleobases exist in RNA and DNA at neutral pH owing to pK a shifting. These bases can affect polymerase fidelity and participate in ribozyme general acid-base catalysis. Protonated RNA bases further influence miRNA processing and viral frameshifting. It is therefore important to have a simple and rapid method for determining the pKa of nucleobases in RNA and DNA. Here we describe the application of 2-aminopurine (2AP), a fluorescent isomer of adenine, to report on the pKa of a nearby ionizing base both in DNA secondary structure and RNA tertiary structure. We observe large, up to 5-fold quenching in fluorescence upon protonation of a nearby base. Using this method, we identify highly shifted pKa's of 7.6 for adenine in a DNA oligonucleotide and 8.15 for cytidine in a tertiary structure element from beet western yellows virus (BWYV) RNA. These pK a values, which were corroborated by 31P NMR measurements and comparison to literature, are shifted over 4 units from their standard values. This fluorescence method can be used to determine pKa's for ionization of both A and C and reveals that shifted pKa's are prevalent in DNA and RNA secondary and tertiary structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7390-7393
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 22 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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