Spectroscopic Investigations of Lanthanide Ion Binding to Nucleic Acids

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Luminescent lanthanide (Ln(III)) ions are valuable spectroscopic probes for metal ion binding sites in nucleic acids. In this chapter, we briefly review Ln(III) luminescence and the information available from these experiments. An emphasis is placed on direct excitation Eu(III) spectroscopy as a tool. Eu(III) excitation spectroscopy is used to show that solutions containing micromolar Eu(III), 100 mM NaCl, and 20 mM MES buffer contain predominantly a mononuclear Eu(III) aqua complex and an Eu(III) hydroxide complexes. The binding of these species to various RNA and DNA sequences are monitored by using Eu(III) excitation spectroscopy. Eu(III) luminescence lifetime data shows that the Eu(III) ion typically loses 1–3 water molecules to form innersphere complexes with RNA and DNA that contain tandem base pair mismatches or hairpin loops. In addition, early studies that used nucleobase-sensitized Eu(III) or Tb(III) luminescence within transfer RNA or in the hammerhead ribozyme are presented. Luminescence resonance energy transfer studies are shown to be useful for determining distances between bound Ln(III) ion and organic fluorophores or between two different Ln(III) ions. To supplement luminescence data, the binding sites of paramagnetic Ln(III) ions are determined by monitoring the chemical shifts of nucleotide protons. Binding sites are identified by following the protons that are influenced by the Ln(III) pseudo-contact shift.