Ribozymes and riboswitches: modulation of RNA function by small molecules

Biochemistry. 2010 Nov 2;49(43):9123-31. doi: 10.1021/bi1012645.


Diverse small molecules interact with catalytic RNAs (ribozymes) as substrates and cofactors, and their intracellular concentrations are sensed by gene-regulatory mRNA domains (riboswitches) that modulate transcription, splicing, translation, or RNA stability. Although recognition mechanisms vary from RNA to RNA, structural analyses reveal recurring strategies that arise from the intrinsic properties of RNA such as base pairing and stacking with conjugated heterocycles, and cation-dependent recognition of anionic functional groups. These studies also suggest that, to a first approximation, the magnitude of ligand-induced reorganization of an RNA is inversely proportional to the complexity of the riboswitch or ribozyme. How these small molecule binding-induced changes in RNA lead to alteration in gene expression is less well understood. While different riboswitches have been proposed to be under either kinetic or thermodynamic control, the biochemical and structural mechanisms that give rise to regulatory consequences downstream of small molecule recognition by RNAs mostly remain to be elucidated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Ligands
  • RNA, Catalytic / drug effects*
  • RNA, Catalytic / metabolism
  • Thermodynamics
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects


  • Ligands
  • RNA, Catalytic