The Calcutta U-U base pair

Recently, I came across the so-called Calcutta U-U base pair (bp) [see figure below] while reading articles on C-H…O contacts in nucleic acid structures. Not familiar with this named pair before, I was curious to find out what it’s about. After some searching, I traced the origin of the Calcutta U-U bp to the following two papers published by Sundaralingam’s group during the middle 1990s:

We have called the novel U•U base pair, where the Hoogsteen face of one of the pyrimidines is involved in a C5-H—O4 hydrogen bond, the ‘Calcutta Base Pair’, since it was announced at the International Seminar-cum-School on Macromolecular Crystallographic Data held in Calcutta, November 16-20, 1995.

We recently discovered a novel U•U base pair, referred to as the Calcutta base pair, in the crystal structure of an RNA hexamer UUCGCG (Ref. 18). The two uracil bases form a conventional N(3)-H…O(4) and an unconventional C(5)-H…O(2) hydrogen bond (Fig. 3a). The C-H…O interaction is entirely ‘voluntary’ and not ‘forced’, underlining its importance in base mispairing.

3DNA has no problem to identify the Calcutta U-U bps (or any pair for that matter); an example is shown below based on the RNA hexamer UUCGCG structure (PDB entry: 1osu) solved by Sundaralingam and colleagues.

Calcutta U-U pair

In the new 3DNA component I’ve been working on (and to be released soon), the Calcutta U-U pair is characterized as below:

1/A.U1 3/A.U2 [U-U] Calcutta 00-n/a tHW -MW
  anti C3'-endo 8.9 --- anti C3'-endo 30.3
  dcc=11.18  dnn=8.48  dmm=7.58  tor=-174.1
  H-bonds[2]: "O4(carbonyl)-N3(imino)[2.76]; C5-O4(carbonyl)[3.27]"

  Shear=-3.67   Stretch=-0.52     Stagger=-0.89
  Buckle=-1.41  Propeller=-16.03  Opening=-90.67

The Calcutta pair is explicitly named, along with other named base pairs (e.g., Watson-Crick [WC], Wobble, and Hoogsteen bps). It is classified as type tHW (trans with Hoogsteen/WC interacting edges), following the commonly used Leontis-Westhof nomenclature. It does not belong to any of the 28 bps (00-n/a) with at least two conventional H-bonds, as categorized by Saenger. In 3DNA, the Calcutta U-U pair is of M-N type, designated as -MW.

Among the well-known named base pairs, some are after the scientists who discovered them (e.g., WC and Hoogsteen bps), while others are based on chemical/geometrical features (e.g., Wobble and Sheared G-A bps), or a combination of both (e.g., reversed WC/Hoogsteen bps). The Calcutta U-U pair is unique in that it is named after a place in India:

Kolkata, or Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. … While the city’s name has always been pronounced Kolkata or Kolikata in Bengali, the anglicized form Calcutta was the official name until 2001, when it was changed to Kolkata in order to match Bengali pronunciation.





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