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The cohering telomeres of Oxytricha.

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We have studied the process by which purified Oxytricha macronuclear DNA associates with itself to form large aggregates. The various macronuclear DNA molecules all have the same terminal or telomeric DNA sequences that are shown below. 5' C4A4C4A4C4--mean length----G4T4G4T4G4T4G4T4G4 G4T4G4T4G4T4G4T4G4-----2.4 kb------C4A4C4A4C4. When incubated at high concentrations, these telomeric sequences cohere with one another to form an unusual structure--one that is quite different from any DNA structure so far described. The evidence for this is the following: 1) These sequences cohere albeit slowly, in the presence of relatively high concentrations of Na+, and no other cation tested. This contrasts with the rapid coherence of complementary single-chain terminals of normal DNA (sticky ends) which occurs in the presence of any cation tested. 2) If the cohered form is transferred into buffers containing a special cation, K+, it becomes much more resistant to dissociation by heating. We estimate that K+ increases the thermal stability by 25 degrees or more. The only precedent known (to us) for a cation-specific stabilization is that seen in the quadruplex structure formed by poly I. The thermal stability of double helical macronuclear DNA depends on the cation concentration, but not the cation type. Limited treatment with specific nucleases show that the 3' and 5'-ended strands are essential for the formation of the cohering structure. Once in the cohered form, the telomeric sequences are protected from the action of nucleases. Coherence is inhibited by specific, but not by non-specific, synthetic oligomers, and by short telomeric fragments with or without their terminal single chains. We conclude that the coherence occurs by the formation of a novel condensed structure that involves the terminal nucleotides in three or four chains.


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