Non-natural (synthetic) nucleobases, including 7-ethynyl- and 7-triazolyl-8-aza-7-deazaadenine, have been introduced in RNA molecules for targeted applications, and have been characterized experimentally. However, no theoretical characterization of the impact of these modifications on the structure and energetics of the corresponding H-bonded base pair is available. To fill this gap, we performed quantum mechanics calculations, starting with the analysis of the impact of the 8-aza-7-deaza modification of the adenine skeleton, and we moved then to analyze the impact of the specific substituents on the modified 8-aza-7-deazaadenine. Our analysis indicates that, despite of these severe structural modifications, the H-bonding properties of the modified base pair gratifyingly replicate those of the unmodified base pair. Similar behavior is predicted when the same skeleton modifications are applied to guanine when paired to cytosine. To stress further the H-bonding pairing in the modified adenine-uracil base pair, we explored the impact of strong electron donor and electron withdrawing substituents on the C7 position. Also in this case we found minimal impact on the base pair geometry and energy, confirming the validity of this modification strategy to functionalize RNAs without perturbing its stability and biological functionality.
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