Quenching of fluorescent nucleobases by neighboring DNA: The "insulator" concept

James N. Wilson, Younjin Cho, Samuel Tan, Andrea Cuppoletti, Eric T. Kool

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Fluorescent nucleosides are widely used as probes of biomolecular structure and mechanism in the context of DNA, but they often exhibit low quantum yields because of quenching by neighboring DNA bases. Here we characterize the quenching by DNA of fluorescent nucleosides that have pyrene (Y), perylene (E), benzopyrene (B), or 2-aminopurine (2AP) as nucleobase replacements, and we investigate the effect of inserting varied nucleosides as potential "insulators" between the fluorescent nucleoles and other nearby DNA bases as a strategy for increasing quantum yields. The data show that the hydrocarbons are quenched by adjacent pyrimidines, with thymine being the strongest quencher. The quantum yield of pyrene is quenched 120-fold by a single adjacent T, that of benzopyrene tenfold, and that of perylene by a factor of 2.5. Quenching of excimer and exciplex dinucleoside labels (Y-Y, Y-E, E-E, etc.) was considerably lessened but was strongest with neighboring thymine. 2-Aminopurine (2AP) is most strongly quenched (15-fold) by neighboring G. We tested four different insulator candidates for reducing this quenching by measuring the fluorescence of short oligonucleotides containing insulators placed between a fluorescent base and a quenching base. The insulators tested were a C3 abasic spacer (S), dihydrothymidine nucleoside (DHT), terphenyl nucleoside (TP), and adenine deoxynucleoside (dA). Results showed that the abasic spacer had little effect on quenching, while the other three had substantial effects. DHT and terphenyl enhanced fluorescence of the fluorophores by factors of 5 to 70. Adenine base reduced the quenching of pyrene 40-fold. The results underscore the importance of the nearest neighbors in DNA-quenching mechanisms, and establish simple strategies for enhancing fluorescence in labeled DNAs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-285
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 25 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Dihydrothymidine
  • Fluorescence
  • Nucleobases
  • Quenching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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