Thermal denaturation profiles of an oligodeoxynucleotide that forms a hairpin structure with a cytidine-rich loop show an unexpected transition at 60 degrees C at pH 5.0 but not at pH 8.0. Analytical ultracentrifugation shows that this transition reflects dimer formation via the interaction of loops from two molecules to form a novel structure termed the h-dimer. The dependence of this structure on low pH implies the formation of cytosine-protonated cytosine base pairs. NMR spectroscopy, thermal denaturation and ultraviolet absorption spectral analysis suggest a similarity to the i-motif structure recently proposed for the interaction of deoxycytidine oligomers. The use of hairpin loops to form i-motif-like structures may prove useful in searches for cognate proteins and possibly in the production of antibodies.