The cellular protein nucleolin preferentially binds long-looped G-quadruplex nucleic acids
BACKGROUND: G-quadruplexes (G4s) are four-stranded nucleic acid structures that form in G-rich sequences. Nucleolin (NCL) is a cellular protein reported for its functions upon G4 recognition, such as induction of neurodegenerative diseases, tumor and virus mechanisms activation. We here aimed at defining NCL/G4 binding determinants. METHODS: Electrophoresis mobility shift assay was used to detect NCL/G4 binding; circular dichroism to assess G4 folding, topology and stability; dimethylsulfate footprinting to detect G bases involved in G4 folding. RESULTS: The purified full-length human NCL was initially tested on telomeric G4 target sequences to allow for modulation of loop, conformation, length, G-tract number, stability. G4s in promoter regions with more complex sequences were next employed. We found that NCL binding to G4s heavily relies on G4 loop length, independently of the conformation and oligonucleotide/loop sequence. Low stability G4s are preferred. When alternative G4 conformations are possible, those with longer loops are preferred upon binding to NCL, even if G-tracts need to be spared from G4 folding. CONCLUSIONS: Our data provide insight into how G4s and the associated proteins may control the ON/OFF molecular switch to several pathological processes, including neurodegeneration, tumor and virus activation. Understanding these regulatory determinants is the first step towards the development of targeted therapies. GENERAL SIGNIFICANCE: The indication that NCL binding preferentially stimulates and induces folding of G4s containing long loops suggests NCL ability to modify the overall structure and steric hindrance of the involved nucleic acid regions. This protein-induced modification of the G4 structure may represent a cellular mechanosensor mechanism to molecular signaling and disease pathogenesis.