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Nucleic acid primary structureNucleic acid secondary structureNucleic acid tertiary structureNucleic acid quaternary structure
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Interactive image of nucleic acid structure (primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary) using DNA helices and examples from the VS ribozyme and telomerase and nucleosome. (PDB: ADNA, 1BNA, 4OCB, 4R4V, 1YMO, 1EQZ​)

Nucleic acid quaternary structure refers to the interactions between separate nucleic acid molecules, or between nucleic acid molecules and proteins. The concept is analogous to protein quaternary structure, but as the analogy is not perfect, the term is used to refer to a number of different concepts in nucleic acids and is less commonly encountered.[1]


DNA quaternary structure is used to refer to the binding of DNA to histones to form nucleosomes, and then their organisation into higher-order chromatin fibres.[2] The quaternary structure of DNA strongly affects how accessible the DNA sequence is to the transcription machinery for expression of genes. DNA quaternary structure varies over time, as regions of DNA are condensed or exposed for transcription. The term has also been used to describe the hierarchical assembly of artificial nucleic acid building blocks used in DNA nanotechnology.[3]


Symmetrical complexes of RNA molecules are extremely uncommon compared to protein oligomers.[1] One example of an RNA homodimer is the VS ribozyme from Neurospora, with its two active sites consisting of nucleotides from both monomers.[4]

The best known example of RNA forming quaternary structures with proteins is the ribosome, which consists of multiple rRNAs, supported by rProteins.[5][6] Similar RNA-Protein complexes are also found in the spliceosome.


  1. ^ a b Jones, Christopher P.; Ferré-D’Amaré, Adrian R. (2015-04-01). "RNA quaternary structure and global symmetry". Trends in Biochemical Sciences. 40 (4): 211–220. doi:10.1016/j.tibs.2015.02.004. PMC 4380790. PMID 25778613.
  2. ^ Sipski, M. Leonide; Wagner, Thomas E. (1977). "Probing DNA quaternary ordering with circular dichroism spectroscopy: Studies of equine sperm chromosomal fibers". Biopolymers. 16 (3): 573–82. doi:10.1002/bip.1977.360160308. PMID 843604.
  3. ^ Chworos, Arkadiusz; Jaeger, Luc (2007). "Nucleic acid foldamers: design, engineering and selection of programmable biomaterials with recognition, catalytic and self-assembly properties". In Hecht, Stefan; Huc, Ivan (eds.). Foldamers: Structure, Properties, and Applications. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH-Verl. pp. 298–299. ISBN 978-3-527-31563-5.
  4. ^ Suslov, Nikolai B.; DasGupta, Saurja; Huang, Hao; Fuller, James R.; Lilley, David M. J.; Rice, Phoebe A.; Piccirilli, Joseph A. (2015-11-01). "Crystal structure of the Varkud satellite ribozyme". Nature Chemical Biology. 11 (11): 840–846. doi:10.1038/nchembio.1929. ISSN 1552-4450. PMC 4618023. PMID 26414446.
  5. ^ Noller, H F (1984). "Structure of Ribosomal RNA". Annual Review of Biochemistry. 53: 119–62. doi:10.1146/ PMID 6206780.
  6. ^ Nissen, P.; Ippolito, JA; Ban, N; Moore, PB; Steitz, TA (2001). "RNA tertiary interactions in the large ribosomal subunit: The A-minor motif". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 98 (9): 4899–903. doi:10.1073/pnas.081082398. PMC 33135. PMID 11296253.