Studying the Key Intermediate of RNA Autohydrolysis by Cryogenic Gas-Phase Infrared Spectroscopy
Greis, K.; Kirschbaum, C.; Taccone, M. I.; Götze, M.; Gewinner, S.; Schöllkopf, W.; Meijer, G.; von Helden, G.; Pagel, K.* – 2022
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, mRNA-based vaccines have gained tremendous importance. The development and analysis of modified RNA molecules benefit from advanced mass spectrometry and require sufficient understanding of fragmentation processes. Analogous to the degradation of RNA in solution by autohydrolysis, backbone cleavage of RNA strands was equally observed in the gas phase; however, the fragmentation mechanism remained elusive. In this work, autohydrolysis-like intermediates were generated from isolated RNA dinucleotides in the gas phase and investigated using cryogenic infrared spectroscopy in helium nanodroplets. Data from both experiment and density functional theory provide evidence for the formation of a five-membered cyclic phosphate intermediate and rule out linear or six-membered structures. Furthermore, the experiments show that another prominent condensed-phase reaction of RNA nucleotides can be induced in the gas phase: the tautomerization of cytosine. Both observed reactions are therefore highly universal and intrinsic properties of the investigated molecules.