The influence of base pair tautomerism on single point mutations in aqueous DNA: Base pair mutations in aqueous DNA

A. Gheorghiu, P. V. Coveney, A. A. Arabi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The relationship between base pair hydrogen bond proton transfer and the rate of spontaneous single point mutations at ambient temperatures and pressures in aqueous DNA is investigated. By using an ensemble-based multiscale computational modelling method, statistically robust rates of proton transfer for the A:T and G:C base pairs within a solvated DNA dodecamer are calculated. Several different proton transfer pathways are observed within the same base pair. It is shown that, in G:C, the double proton transfer tautomer is preferred, while the single proton transfer process is favoured in A:T. The reported range of rate coefficients for double proton transfer is consistent with recent experimental data. Notwithstanding the approximately 1000 times more common presence of single proton transfer products from A:T, observationally there is bias towards G:C to A:T mutations in a wide range of living organisms. We infer that the double proton transfer reactions between G:C base pairs have a negligible contribution towards this bias for the following reasons: (i) the maximum half-life of the G∗:C∗ tautomer is in the range of picoseconds, which is significantly smaller than the milliseconds it takes for DNA to unwind during replication, (ii) statistically, the majority of G∗:C∗ tautomers revert back to their canonical forms through a barrierless process, and (iii) the thermodynamic instability of the tautomers with respect to the canonical base pairs. Through similar reasoning, we also deduce that proton transfer in the A:T base pair does not contribute to single point mutations in DNA.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190120
JournalInterface Focus
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 6 2020


  • DNA mutation
  • high-performance computing
  • multiscale modelling
  • proton transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering


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