A polyguanine/polycytosine (polyG/polyC) tract in the proximal promoter of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene is essential for transcriptional activation. The guanine-rich (G-rich) and cytosine-rich (C-rich) strands on this tract are shown to form specific secondary structures, characterized as G-quadruplexes and i-motifs, respectively. Mutational analysis of the G-rich strand combined with dimethyl sulfate (DMS) footprinting, a polymerase stop assay, and circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy revealed that the G-quadruplex containing a 1:4:1 double-chain reversal loop is the most thermodynamically stable conformation that this strand readily adopts. These studies provide strong evidence that the size of loop regions plays a critical role in determining the most favored folding pattern of a G-quadruplex. The secondary structure formed on the complementary C-rich strand was also determined by mutational analysis combined with Br2 footprinting and CD spectroscopy. Our results reveal that at a pH of 5.9 this strand is able to form an intramolecular i-motif structure that involves six C-C+ base pairs and a 2:3:2 loop configuration. Taken together, our results demonstrate that the G-quadruplex and i-motif structures are able to form on the G- and C-rich strands, respectively, of the polyG/polyC tract in the VEGF proximal promoter under conditions that favor the transition from B-DNA to non-B-DNA conformations.
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