Targeting Telomeres: Molecular Dynamics and Free Energy Simulation of Gold-Carbene Binding to DNA

Asmar Nayis, Korbinian Liebl, Christina V. Frost, Martin Zacharias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


DNA sequences in regulatory regions and in telomers at the ends of chromosomes frequently contain tandem repeats of guanine nucleotides that can form stacked structures stabilized by Hoogsten pairing and centrally bound monovalent cations. The replication and elongation of telomeres requires the disruption of these G-quadruplex structures. Hence, drug molecules such as gold (Au)-carbene that stabilize G-quadruplexes may also interfere with the elongation of telomeres and, in turn, could be used to control cell replication and growth. To better understand the molecular mechanism of Au-carbene binding to G-quadruplexes, we employed molecular dynamics simulations and free energy simulations. Whereas very restricted mobility of two Au-carbene ligands was found upon binding as a doublet to one side of the G-quadruplex, much larger translational and orientational mobility was observed for a single Au-carbene binding at the second G-quadruplex surface. Comparative simulations on duplex DNA in the presence of Au-carbene ligands indicates a preference for the minor groove and weaker unspecific and more salt-dependent binding than to the G-quadruplex surface. Analysis of energetic contributions reveals a dominance of nonpolar and van der Waals interactions to drive binding. The simulations can also be helpful for proposing possible modifications that could improve Au-carbene affinity and specificity for G-quadruplex binding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-108
Number of pages8
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 5 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


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