It is generally accepted that DNA predominantly exists in duplex form in cells. However, under torsional stress imposed by active transcription, DNA can assume nonduplex structures. The BCL2 promoter region forms two different secondary DNA structures on opposite strands called the G-quadruplex and the i-motif. The i-motif is a highly dynamic structure that exists in equilibrium with a flexible hairpin species. Here we identify a pregnanol derivative and a class of piperidine derivatives that differentially modulate gene expression by stabilizing either the i-motif or the flexible hairpin species. Stabilization of the i-motif structure results in significant upregulation of the BCL2 gene and associated protein expression; in contrast, stabilization of the flexible hairpin species lowers BCL2 levels. The BCL2 levels reduced by the hairpin-binding compound led to chemosensitization to etoposide in both in vitro and in vivo models. Furthermore, we show antagonism between the two classes of compounds in solution and in cells. For the first time, our results demonstrate the principle of small molecule targeting of i-motif structures in vitro and in vivo to modulate gene expression.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry