G-Quadruplexes (GQs) are compact, stable structures in DNA and RNA comprised of two or more tiers of quartets whose G-rich motif of tracts of two or more G’s occurs commonly within genomes and transcriptomes. While thermodynamically stablein vitro, these structures remain difficult to studyin vivo. One approach to understanding GQin vivobehavior is to test whether conditions and molecules found in cells facilitate their folding. Polyamines are biogenic polycations that interact with RNA. Among common polyamines, spermine contains the highest charge and is found in eukaryotes, making it a good candidate for association with high-charge density nucleic acid structures like GQs. Using a variety of techniques, including ultraviolet-detected thermal denaturation, circular dichroism, size exclusion chromatography, and confocal microscopy, on an array of quadruplex sequence variants, we find that eukaryotic biological concentrations of spermine induce microaggregation of three-tiered G-rich sequences, but not of purely two-tiered structures, although higher spermine concentrations induce aggregation of even these. The formation of microaggregates can also be induced by addition of as little as a single G to a two-tiered structure; moreover, they form at biological temperatures, are sensitive to salt, and can form in the presence of at least some flanking sequence. Notably, GQ aggregation is not observed under prokaryotic-like conditions of no spermine and higher NaCl concentrations. The sequence, polyamine, and salt specificity of microaggregation reported herein have implications for the formation and stability of G-rich nucleic acid aggregatesin vivoand for functional roles for understudied GQ sequences with only two quadruplex tiers.
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