The heteromeric Nanoarchaeum equitans splicing endonuclease cleaves noncanonical bulge-helix-bulge motifs of joined tRNA halves

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Dec 13;102(50):17934-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0509197102. Epub 2005 Dec 5.


Among the tRNA population of the archaeal parasite Nanoarchaeum equitans are five species assembled from separate 5' and 3' tRNA halves and four species derived from tRNA precursors containing introns. In both groups an intervening sequence element must be removed during tRNA maturation. A bulge-helix-bulge (BHB) motif is the hallmark structure required by the archaeal splicing endonuclease for recognition and excision of all introns. BHB motifs are recognizable at the joining sites of all five noncontinuous tRNA species, although deviations from the canonical BHB motif are clearly present in at least two of them. Here, we show that the N. equitans splicing endonuclease cleaves tRNA precursors containing normal introns, as well as all five noncontinuous precursor tRNAs, at the predicted splice sites, indicating the enzyme's dual role in the removal of tRNA introns and processing of tRNA halves to be joined in trans. The cleavage activity on a set of synthetic canonical and noncanonical BHB constructs showed that the N. equitans splicing endonuclease accepts a broader range of substrates than the homodimeric Archaeoglobus fulgidus enzyme. In contrast to the A. fulgidus endonuclease, the N. equitans splicing enzyme possesses two different subunits. This heteromeric endonuclease type, found in N. equitans, in all Crenarchaeota, and in Methanopyrus kandleri, is able to act on the noncanonical tRNA introns present only in these organisms, which suggests coevolution of enzyme and substrate.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Base Pairing
  • Base Sequence
  • Computational Biology
  • DNA Primers
  • Endoribonucleases / genetics
  • Endoribonucleases / metabolism*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Genetic
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nanoarchaeota / enzymology*
  • Phylogeny*
  • RNA Splicing / physiology*
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Transfer
  • Endoribonucleases
  • splicing endonuclease