Maintenance of the telomeres is key to chromosome integrity and cell proliferation. The G-quadruplex structures formed by telomeric DNA and RNA (TTAGGG and UUAGGG repeats, respectively) are key to this process. However, because these sequences are particularly polymorphic, solving high-resolution structures is not always possible, and there is a need for new methodologies to characterize the multiple structures coexisting in solution. In this context, we evaluated whether ion mobility spectrometry coupled to native mass spectrometry could help separate and assign the G-quadruplex topologies. We explored the circular dichroism spectra, multimer formation, cation binding, and ion mobility spectra of several 4-repeat and 8-repeat telomeric DNA and RNA sequences, both in NH4+ and in K+. In 1 mM K+ and 100 mM trimethylammonium acetate, all RNAs fold intramolecularly (no multimer). In 8-repeat sequences, the subunits are not independent: in DNA the first subunit disfavors the folding of the second one, whereas in RNA the two subunits fold cooperatively via cation-mediated stacking. Ion mobility spectrometry shows that gas-phase structures keep a memory of the solution ones, but not identical. At the native charge states, the loops can rearrange in a variety of ways (unless they are constrained by pre-formed hydrogen bonds), thereby wrapping the core and masking the strand arrangements. Our study highlights that, to progress towards structural assignment from IM-MS experiments, deeper understanding of the solution-to-gas-phase rearrangement mechanisms is warranted.
190609 TERRA suppinfo