Friedreich's ataxia is associated with noncanonical nucleic acid structures that emerge when GAA:TTC repeats in the first intron of the FXN gene expand beyond a critical number of repeats. Specifically, the noncanonical repeats are associated with both triplexes and R-loops. Here, the authors present an in silico investigation of all possible triplexes that form by attaching a third RNA strand to an RNA:RNA or DNA:DNA duplex, complementing previous DNA-based triplex studies. For both new triplexes results are similar. For a pyridimine UUC+ third strand, the parallel orientation is stable while its antiparallel counterpart is unstable. For a neutral GAA third strand, the parallel conformation is stable. A protonated GA+A third strand is stable in both parallel and antiparallel orientations. They have also investigated Na+ and Mg2+ ion distributions around the triplexes. The presence of Mg2+ ions helps stabilize neutral, antiparallel GAA triplexes. These results (along with previous DNA-based studies) allow for the emergence of a complete picture of the stability and structural characteristics of triplexes based on the GAA and TTC/UUC sequences, thereby contributing to the field of trinucleotide repeats and the associated unusual structures that trigger expansion.

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