Molecular modelling studies resulted in the design of a variety of non-nucleotidic covalent linkers to bridge the 3'-end of the (+)-strand and the 5'-end of the (-)-strand in DNA duplexes. Three of these linkers were synthesized and used to prepare singly cross-linked duplexes d(GTGGAATTC)-linker-d(GAATTCCAC). Linker I is an assembly of a propylene-, a phosphate- and a second propylene-group and is thought to mimic the backbone of two nucleotides. Linkers II and III consist of five and six ethyleneglycol units, respectively. The melting temperatures of the cross-linked duplexes are 65 degrees C for I and 73 degrees C for II and III, as compared with 36 degrees C for the corresponding non-linked nonadeoxynucleotide duplex. The three cross-linked duplexes were structurally characterized by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The 1H and 31P resonance assignments in the DNA stem were obtained using standard methods. For the resonance assignment of the linker protons, two-dimensional 1H-31P heteronuclear COSY and two-quantum-experiments were used. Distance geometry calculations with NOE-derived distance constraints were performed and the resulting structures were energy-minimized. In duplex I, the nucleotides flanking the propylene-phosphate-propylene-linker do not form a Watson-Crick base pair, whereas in duplexes II and III the entire DNA stem is in a B-type double helix conformation.