Theses and Dissertations


Jingjing Cui

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Lewis, Edwin A.

Committee Member

Emerson, Joseph P.

Committee Member

Henry, William P.

Committee Member

Zhang, Dongmao

Committee Member

Li, Jiaxu

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Chemistry


The oncogene c-MYC has guanine-rich and complementary cytosine-rich sequences in its P1 promoter region. The P1 promoter is responsible for over 90% of the c-MYC expression. Downregulation of c-MYC expression represents a novel therapeutic approach to more than 50% of all cancers. A stable i-motif formed by the c-MYC C-rich sequence would be an attractive target for cancer treatment. We have previously shown that c-MYC promoter sequences can form stable i-motifs in acidic solution (pH 4.5-5.5). The question is whether c-MYC promoter sequence i-motif will be stable at physiological pH. In this work, we have investigated the stability of mutant c-MYC i-motif in solutions having pH values from 4 to 7 and containing co-solutes or molecular crowding agents. The crowded nuclear environment was modeled by the addition of polyethylene glycol (PEG, having molecular weights from 200 to 12000 g/mol) at concentrations of 10% to 40% w/w. Circular dichroism spectroscopy (CD) and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) were used to establish the presence and stability of c-MYC i-motifs in buffer solutions having pH values of 4 to 7. The results of these studies are: 1) the addition of up to 20% w/w glycerol does not increase i-motif stability, 2) the addition of 30% PEG results in an increase in i-motif stability to pH values as high as 6.7, 3) i-motif stability is increased with increased PEG concentration and increased PEG molecular weight, and 4) the effects of PEG size and concentration are not linear, with larger PEGs forming DNA/PEG complexes, which destabilize the i-motif. In summary, we have shown that the c-MYC i-motif can exist as a stable structure at pH as high as 6.7 in a crowded environment. Molecular crowding, largely an excluded volume effect, drives the formation of the more compact i-motif, even at higher pH values where the cytosine imino-nitrogen is deprotonated and neutral C-C pairs can form only two H-bonds. Based on this research, it seems possible that a stable c-MYC promoter sequence i-motif could form at physiological pH and would be a reasonable drug target for new cancer therapies.



DSC||CD||c-MYC||molecular crowding||PEG||polyethylene glycol||co-solute||i-motif