Oligopeptides have been synthesized that are structurally related to the antiviral antitumor antibiotic netropsin, but in which each of the pyrrole units is successively replaced by an imidazole moiety, as well as their di- and triimidazole-containing counterparts. These compounds bind to duplex DNA with constants in the range (1.06-1.98) X 106M-1 but not to single-stranded DNA. Since they bind to T4 DNA, it is inferred that, like the parent antibiotic netropsin, they are also minor groove selective. This series of compounds exhibits a progressively decreasing preference for AT sites in binding studies with both native DNAs and synthetic oligonucleotides and a corresponding increasing acceptance of GC base pairs. Footprinting experiments utilizing a 139 base pair HindIII/NciI restriction fragment from pBR 322 DNA revealed that these lexitropsins, or information-reading oligopeptides, recognize more sites than the parent netropsin. In addition, some regions of enhanced nuclease action as the result of drug binding to the fragment were identified. The diimidazole compound in particular recognizes GC-rich sites, implying the formation of new hydrogen bonds between G-C(2)NH2 in the minor groove and the additional N3 imidazole nitrogens. It is clear however that, since the lexitropsins appear to tolerate the original (AT)4 site, an N-methylimidazole group on the ligand will permit either a GC or AT base pair in the binding sequence. Another factor that may be significant in molecular recognition is the high negative electrostatic potential of A•T regions of the minor groove, which is likely to strongly influence binding of these cationic species to DNA. This approach may ultimately permit the structurally rational alteration of sequence specificity in the molecular recognition of oligopeptides for DNA.
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