Expansion of the GAA/TTC repeats in the first intron of the FXN gene causes Friedreich's ataxia. Non-canonical structures are linked to this expansion. DNA triplexes and R-loops are believed to arrest transcription, which results in frataxin deficiency and eventual neurodegeneration. This study presents a systematic in silico characterization of the possible DNA triplexes that could be assembled with GAA and TTC strands; the two hybrid duplexes [r(GAA):d(TTC) and d(GAA):r(UUC)] in an R-loop; and three hybrid triplexes that could form during bidirectional transcription when the non-template DNA strand bonds with the hybrid duplex (collapsed R-loops, where the two DNA strands remain antiparallel). For both Y·R:Y and R·R:Y DNA triplexes, the parallel third strand orientation is more stable; both parallel and antiparallel protonated d(GA+A)·d(GAA):d(TTC) triplexes are stable. Apparent contradictions in the literature about the R·R:Y triplex stability is probably due to lack of molecular resolution, since shifting the third strand by a single nucleotide alters the stability ranking. In the collapsed R-loops, antiparallel d(TTC+)·d(GAA):r(UUC) is unstable, while parallel d(GAA)·r(GAA):d(TTC) and d(GA+A)·r(GAA):d(TTC) are stable. In addition to providing new structural perspectives for specific therapeutic aims, these results contribute to a systematic structural basis for the emerging field of quantitative R-loop biology.

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