Direct observation of the temperature-induced melting process of the Salmonella fourU RNA thermometer at base-pair resolution

Nucleic Acids Res. 2010 Jun;38(11):3834-47. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkq124. Epub 2010 Mar 7.


In prokaryotes, RNA thermometers regulate a number of heat shock and virulence genes. These temperature sensitive RNA elements are usually located in the 5'-untranslated regions of the regulated genes. They repress translation initiation by base pairing to the Shine-Dalgarno sequence at low temperatures. We investigated the thermodynamic stability of the temperature labile hairpin 2 of the Salmonella fourU RNA thermometer over a broad temperature range and determined free energy, enthalpy and entropy values for the base-pair opening of individual nucleobases by measuring the temperature dependence of the imino proton exchange rates via NMR spectroscopy. Exchange rates were analyzed for the wild-type (wt) RNA and the A8C mutant. The wt RNA was found to be stabilized by the extraordinarily stable G14-C25 base pair. The mismatch base pair in the wt RNA thermometer (A8-G31) is responsible for the smaller cooperativity of the unfolding transition in the wt RNA. Enthalpy and entropy values for the base-pair opening events exhibit linear correlation for both RNAs. The slopes of these correlations coincide with the melting points of the RNAs determined by CD spectroscopy. RNA unfolding occurs at a temperature where all nucleobases have equal thermodynamic stabilities. Our results are in agreement with a consecutive zipper-type unfolding mechanism in which the stacking interaction is responsible for the observed cooperativity. Furthermore, remote effects of the A8C mutation affecting the stability of nucleobase G14 could be identified. According to our analysis we deduce that this effect is most probably transduced via the hydration shell of the RNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Pairing
  • Entropy
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Nucleic Acid Denaturation
  • RNA, Bacterial / chemistry*
  • Regulatory Sequences, Ribonucleic Acid*
  • Salmonella / genetics*
  • Temperature
  • Thermodynamics


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • Regulatory Sequences, Ribonucleic Acid