Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

W. David Wilson

Second Advisor

Stuart A. Allison

Third Advisor

Kathryn B. Grant


Natural and synthetic heterocyclic cations that bind to the DNA minor groove have demonstrated effectiveness as therapeutic agents for cancer, parasitic and viral diseases, as well as powerful probes for use to extend our fundamental understanding of DNA molecular recognition. Crystal and NMR structures with a variety of minor groove binding compounds have shed light on the structural varieties of these systems, the important solvent molecules in the complexes, and the induced fit effects for binding of both DNA and the bound small molecule. Topics of specific importance in DNA recognition are the development of a greater variety of cell-permeable minor groove agents that have increased DNA binding sequence selectivity.

In this dissertation, the structural and energetic basis of the interaction between DNA and minor groove binders has been systematically investigated. A set of powerful and complementary biophysical methods have been used: gel electrophoresis with ligation ladder assay, circular dichroism, mass spectrometry, surface plasmon resonance and isothermal titration calorimetry have been applied to determine the binding stoichiometry, binding affinity, kinetics and thermodynamics, and also the structural influence that minor groove binders can have on DNA. The results of several minor groove complexes clearly show that based on DNA sequences, minor groove binders can have multiple binding modes and consequently affect the geometry of DNA minor groove and the overall DNA curvature in distinct manners. In addition, the binding enthalpy of a minor groove binder is essentially salt concentration and binding mode independent.

Besides the investigation of DNA-minor groove binder complex, the binding and inhibition of transcription factor PU.1 has also been studied. The highly positive charged PU.1 targets DNA by inserting an α-helix in the major groove of the 5’-GGAA-3’ site, and displays a strong salt concentration dependency. A set of minor groove binders have been rationally designed based on the high-affinity DNA sequence for PU.1 to target the flanking sequences of the 5’-GGAA-3’ site. They display a structure-related PU.1 inhibition efficacy. This work demonstrates that minor groove binders are capable of modulating PU.1 by targeting the opposite groove and supports future efforts to develop agents for other transcription factors.