Thermochemical and Structural Analysis of Tautomers of Sulfur and Selenium Modified RNA Nucleobases

  • Megan Joy WISEST student researcher, University of Alberta
  • Alex Brown Department of Chemistry, University of Alberta
  • Arturo Mora Gomez Department of Chemistry, University of Alberta
  • Maria Rossano-Tapia Department of Chemistry, University of Alberta
  • Shyam Parshotam Department of Chemistry, University of Alberta
Keywords: nucleobases, RNA, sulfur, selenium, tautomers, emissive, computations, structural analysis


Nucleobases (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil), the four molecules that forms RNA, have been found to be useful in probing in the human body when modified because they can emit light. Non-modified nucleobases do not exhibit emissive properties and cannot be used as probes. Some of the modifications include the substitution of nitrogen atoms with sulfur and selenium, and the resulting modified nucleobases give place to the so-called tz- and ts- RNA alphabets, respectively. Therefore, the aim of this project was to provide insights about the viability, from a computational perspective, of using the modified nucleobases as probes, evaluating the differences in thermochemical, structural and emissive properties of the modified nucleobases with respect to the non-modified ones. Nucleobases can coexist with other modified nucleobases or tautomers, molecules that differ due to the change in position of hydrogen atoms in a molecule’s structure and as a result have different physical and chemical properties. The thermochemical properties evaluation mainly consisted in the computation of the relative Gibbs Free Energy (G), which is related to the fraction F, an index of the relative population among tautomers. This was done using Gaussian 09 software by performing geometry analysis and frequency computations on each one of the tautomers. By comparing the equilibrium fractions, it was determined that in both cases, tz- and ts- guanine and cytosine exist principally in the form of one of their tautomers (Cytosine 2 and Guanine 2) as in the case of the non-modified cases. After confirming which tz- and ts- tautomers were the ones with the largest probable population, infrared (IR) and ultraviolet-visible (UV-vis) spectra were obtained. The IR spectra of selenium and sulfur tautomers of guanine and cytosine indicated that the tautomers had peaks at similar frequencies with respect to each other, however, the intensities varied, implying slight structural changes between the tautomers. On the other hand, the UV-vis spectra showed a change in peak positions between the tautomers with sulfur and selenium, suggesting that the change between sulfur and selenium has an effect on the spectra by shifting the peaks from the original molecules’ λmax values. Their relative population fractions show that only the canonical forms of the modified nucleobases exist in a larger extent than the rest of their tautomer forms. In addition, the features in their UV-vis and IR spectra allow these tautomers to be differentiated from each other.