DNA G-Quadruplexes (G4s) formed in oncogene promoters regulate transcription. The oncogene MYC promoter G4 (MycG4) is the most prevalent G4 in human cancers. However, the most studied MycG4 sequence bears a mutated 3′-residue crucial for ligand recognition. Here, we report a new drug-like small molecule PEQ without a large aromatic moiety that specifically binds MycG4. We determined the NMR solution structures of the wild-type MycG4 and its 2:1 PEQ complex, as well as the structure of the 2:1 PEQ complex of the widely used mutant MycG4. Comparison of the two complex structures demonstrates specific molecular recognition of MycG4 and shows the clear effect of the critical 3′-mutation on the drug binding interface. We performed a systematic analysis of the four available complex structures involving the same mutant MycG4, which can be considered a model system for parallel G4s, and revealed for the first time that the flexible flanking residues are recruited in a conserved and sequence-specific way, as well as unused potential for selective ligand-G4 hydrogen-bond interactions. Our results provide the true molecular basis for MycG4-targeting drugs and new critical insights into future rational design of drugs targeting MycG4 and parallel G4s that are prevalent in promoter and RNA G4s.
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