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2.13: Nucleotides

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    Nucleic acids are linear, unbranched polymers of nucleotides. Nucleotides consist of three parts.


    A five-carbon sugar (hence a pentose). Two kinds are found:

    • deoxyribose, which has a hydrogen atom attached to its #2 carbon atom (designated 2'), and
    • ribose, which has a hydroxyl group there.

    Deoxyribose-containing nucleotides, the deoxyribonucleotides, are the monomers of deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA). Ribose-containing nucleotides, the ribonucleotides, are the monomers of ribonucleic acids (RNA).

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    The Purines The Pyrimidines

    A nitrogen-containing ring structure called a nucleobase (or simply a base). The nucleobase is attached to the 1' carbon atom of the pentose. In DNA, four different nucleobases are found:

    • two purines, called adenine (A) and guanine (G)
    • two pyrimidines, called thymine (T) and cytosine (C)

    RNA contains:

    • The same purines, adenine (A) and guanine (G).
    • RNA also uses the pyrimidine cytosine (C), but instead of thymine, it uses the pyrimidine uracil (U).


    The combination of a nucleobase and a pentose is called a nucleoside.


    One (as shown in the first figure), two, or three phosphate groups. These are attached to the 5' carbon atom of the pentose. The product in each case is called a nucleotide. Both DNA and RNA are assembled from nucleoside triphosphates.

    • For DNA, these are dATP, dGTP, dCTP, and dTTP.
    • For RNA, these are ATP, GTP, CTP, and UTP.

    In both cases, as each nucleotide is attached, the second and third phosphates are removed.

    Table 2.13.1: The nucleosides and their mono-, di-, and triphosphates
    Nucleobase Nucleoside Nucleotides
    DNA Adenine (A) Deoxyadenosine dAMP dADP dATP
    Guanine (G) Deoxyguanosine dGMP dGDP dGTP
    Cytosine (C) Deoxycytidine dCMP dCDP dCTP
    Thymine (T) Deoxythymidine dTMP dTDP dTTP
    RNA Adenine (A) Adenosine AMP ADP ATP
    Guanine (G) Guanosine GMP GDP GTP
    Cytosine (C) Cytidine CMP CDP CTP
    Uracil (U) Uridine UMP UDP UTP

    This page titled 2.13: Nucleotides is shared under a CC BY 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Kimball via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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