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The oxidation of DNA resulting from reactive oxygen species generated during aerobic respiration is a major cause of genetic damage that, if not repaired, can lead to mutations and potentially an increase in the incidence of cancer and aging. A major oxidation product generated in cells is 8-oxoguanine (oxoG), which is removed from the nucleotide pool by the enzymatic hydrolysis of 8-oxo-2'-deoxyguanosine triphosphate and from genomic DNA by 8-oxoguanine-DNA glycosylase. Finding and repairing oxoG in the midst of a large excess of unmodified DNA requires a combination of rapid scanning of the DNA for the lesion followed by specific excision of the damaged base. The repair of oxoG involves flipping the lesion out of the DNA stack and into the active site of the 8-oxoguanine-DNA glycosylase. This would suggest that thermodynamic stability, in terms of the rate for local denaturation, could play a role in lesion recognition. While prior X-ray crystal and NMR structures show that DNA with oxoG lesions appears virtually identical to the corresponding unmodified duplex, thermodynamic studies indicate that oxoG has a destabilizing influence. Our studies show that oxoG destabilizes DNA (ΔΔG of 2-8 kcal mol(-1) over a 16-116 mM NaCl range) due to a significant reduction in the enthalpy term. The presence of oxoG has a profound effect on the level and nature of DNA hydration indicating that the environment around an oxoG•C is fundamentally different than that found at G•C. The temperature-dependent imino proton NMR spectrum of oxoG modified DNA confirms the destabilization of the oxoG•C pairing and those base pairs that are 5' of the lesion. The instability of the oxoG modification is attributed to changes in the hydrophilicity of the base and its impact on major groove cation binding.