Replication Protein A Unfolds G-Quadruplex Structures with Varying Degrees of Efficiency

Replication protein A (RPA) is known to interact with guanine- (G-) rich sequences that adopt G-quadruplex (GQ) structures. Most studies reported in the literature were performed on GQ formed by homogeneous sequences, such as the human telomeric repeat, and RPA’s ability to unfold GQ structures of differing stability is not known. We compared the thermal stability of three potential GQ-forming DNA sequences (PQSs) to their stability against RPA-mediated unfolding using single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) and bulk biophysical and biochemical experiments. One of these sequences is the human telomeric repeat and the other two, located in the promoter region of tyrosine hydroxylase gene, are highly heterogeneous sequences that better represent PQSs in the genome. The three GQ constructs have thermal stabilities that differ significantly. Our measurements showed that the most thermally stable structure (Tm = 86 °C) was also the most stable against RPA-mediated unfolding, although the least thermally stable structure (Tm = 69 °C) had at least an order-of-magnitude higher stability against RPA-mediated unfolding than the structure with intermediate thermal stability (Tm = 78 °C). The significance of this observation becomes more evident when considered within the context of the cellular environment where protein–DNA interactions can be an important determinant of GQ viability. Considering these results, we conclude that thermal stability is not necessarily an adequate criterion for predicting the physiological viability of GQ structures. Finally, we measured the time it takes for an RPA molecule to unfold a GQ from a fully folded to a fully unfolded conformation using a single-molecule stopped-flow method. All three GQ structures were unfolded within Δt ≈ 0.30 ± 0.10 s, a surprising result considering that the unfolding time does not correlate with thermal stability or stability against RPA-mediated unfolding. These results suggest that the limiting step in G-quadruplex unfolding by RPA is simply the accessibility of the structure to the RPA protein.