The polypurine/polypyrimidine (pPu/pPy) tract of the human vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene is proposed to be structurally dynamic and to have potential to adopt non-B DNA structures. In the present study, we further provide evidence for the existence of the G-quadruplex structure within this tract both in vitro and in vivo using the dimethyl sulfate (DMS) footprinting technique and nucleolin as a structural probe specifically recognizing G-quadruplex structures. We observed that the overall reactivity of the guanine residues within this tract toward DMS was significantly reduced compared with other guanine residues of the flanking regions in both in vitro and in vivo footprinting experiments. We also demonstrated that nucleolin, which is known to bind to G-quadruplex structures, is able to bind specifically to the G-rich sequence of this region in negatively supercoiled DNA. Our chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis further revealed binding of nucleolin to the promoter region of the VEGF gene in vivo. Taken together, our results are in agreement with our hypothesis that secondary DNA structures, such as G-quadruplexes, can be formed in supercoiled duplex DNA and DNA in chromatin in vivo under physiological conditions similar to those formed in single-stranded DNA templates
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