The specialized ribonuclease Dicer plays a central role in eukaryotic gene expression by producing small regulatory RNAs-microRNAs (miRNAs) and short interfering RNAs (siRNAs)-from larger double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) substrates. Although Dicer will cleave both imperfectly base-paired hairpin structures (pre-miRNAs) and perfect duplexes (pre-siRNAs) in vitro, it has not been clear whether these are mechanistically equivalent substrates and how dsRNA binding proteins such as trans-activation response (TAR) RNA binding protein (TRBP) influence substrate selection and RNA processing efficiency. We show here that human Dicer is much faster at processing a pre-miRNA substrate compared to a pre-siRNA substrate under both single and multiple turnover conditions. Maximal cleavage rates (V(max)) calculated by Michaelis-Menten analysis differed by more than 100-fold under multiple turnover conditions. TRBP was found to enhance dicing of both substrates to similar extents, and this stimulation required the two N-terminal dsRNA binding domains of TRBP. These results demonstrate that multiple factors influence dicing kinetics. While TRBP stimulates dicing by enhancing the stability of Dicer-substrate complexes, Dicer itself generates product RNAs at rates determined at least in part by the structural properties of the substrate.
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