Hydrogen-bonded base pairs are an important determinant of nucleic acid structure and function. However, other interactions such as base-base stacking, base-backbone, and backbone-backbone interactions as well as effects exerted by the solvent and by metal or NH(4)(+) ions also have to be taken into account. In addition, hydrogen-bonded base complexes involving more than two bases can occur. With the rapidly increasing number and structural diversity of nucleic acid structures known at atomic detail higher-order hydrogen-bonded base complexes, base polyads, have attracted much interest. This review provides an overview on the occurrence of base polyads in nucleic acid structures and describes computational studies on these nucleic acid building blocks.