Biotechnological and Therapeutic Applications of Natural Nucleic Acid Structural Motifs

Jinwei Duan, Xing Wang, Megan E. Kizer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Genetic information and the blueprint of life are stored in the form of nucleic acids. The primary sequence of DNA, read from the canonical double helix, provides the code for RNA and protein synthesis. Yet these already-information-rich molecules have higher-order structures which play critical roles in transcription and translation. Uncovering the sequences, parameters, and conditions which govern the formation of these structural motifs has allowed researchers to study them and to utilize them in biotechnological and therapeutic applications in vitro and in vivo. This review covers both DNA and RNA structural motifs found naturally in biological systems including catalytic nucleic acids, non-coding RNA, aptamers, G-quadruplexes, i-motifs, and Holliday junctions. For each category, an overview of the structural characteristics, biological prevalence, and function will be discussed. The biotechnological and therapeutic applications of these structural motifs are highlighted. Future perspectives focus on the addition of proteins and unnatural modifications to enhance structural stability for greater applicability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalTopics in current chemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • G-quadruplex
  • Holliday junction
  • i-Motif
  • Nanotechnology
  • Nucleic acids
  • Ribozymes
  • Structural motifs
  • Therapeutics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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