Nucleic acid components

Lesson 27 : Nucleic acids-Nitrogenous bases, Nucleotides

Nucleic acid components


Nucleobases are heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds containing nitrogen atoms. Nucleobases are the parts of RNA and DNA involved in base pairing. Cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine are found predominantly in DNA, while in RNA uracil replaces thymine. These are abbreviated as C, G, A, T, U, respectively.

Nucleobases are complementary, and when forming base pairs, must always join accordingly: cytosine-guanine, adenine-thymine (adenine-uracil when RNA). The strength of the interaction between cytosine and guanine is stronger than between adenine and thymine because the former pair has three hydrogen bonds joining them while the latter pair have only two. Thus, the higher the GC content of double-stranded DNA, the more stable the molecule and the higher the melting temperature.

Two main nucleobase classes exist, named for the molecule which forms their skeleton. These are the double-ringed purines and single-ringed pyrimidines. Adenine and guanine are purines (abbreviated as R), while cytosine, thymine, and uracil are all pyrimidines


Nucleosides are glycosylamines made by attaching a nucleobase (often referred to simply as bases) to a ribose or deoxyribose (sugar) ring. In short, a nucleoside is a base linked to sugar. The names derive from the nucleobase names. Nucleoside analogues, such as acyclovir, are used as antiviral agents.

Nucleotides and deoxynucleotides

A nucleotide consists of a nucleoside and one phosphate group. Nucleotides are the monomers of RNA and DNA, as well as forming the structural units of several important cofactors - CoA, flavin adenine dinucleotide, flavin mononucleotide, adenosine triphosphate and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate. In the cell nucleotides play important roles in metabolism, and signaling.

Nucleotides are named after the nucleoside on which they are based, in conjunction with the number of phosphates they contain, for example:

  • Adenine bonded to ribose forms the nucleoside adenosine.
  • Adenosine bonded to a phosphate forms adenosine monophosphate.
  • As phosphates are added, adenosine diphosphate and adenosine triphosphate are formed, in sequence.

Last modified: Tuesday, 24 January 2012, 7:08 AM