Unraveling the structural complexity in a single-stranded RNA tail: implications for efficient ligand binding in the prequeuosine riboswitch

Nucleic Acids Res. 2012 Feb;40(3):1345-55. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkr833. Epub 2011 Oct 18.


Single-stranded RNAs (ssRNAs) are ubiquitous RNA elements that serve diverse functional roles. Much of our understanding of ssRNA conformational behavior is limited to structures in which ssRNA directly engages in tertiary interactions or is recognized by proteins. Little is known about the structural and dynamic behavior of free ssRNAs at atomic resolution. Here, we report the collaborative application of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and replica exchange molecular dynamics (REMD) simulations to characterize the 12 nt ssRNA tail derived from the prequeuosine riboswitch. NMR carbon spin relaxation data and residual dipolar coupling measurements reveal a flexible yet stacked core adopting an A-form-like conformation, with the level of order decreasing toward the terminal ends. An A-to-C mutation within the polyadenine tract alters the observed dynamics consistent with the introduction of a dynamic kink. Pre-ordering of the tail may increase the efficacy of ligand binding above that achieved by a random-coil ssRNA. The REMD simulations recapitulate important trends in the NMR data, but suggest more internal motions than inferred from the NMR analysis. Our study unmasks a previously unappreciated level of complexity in ssRNA, which we believe will also serve as an excellent model system for testing and developing computational force fields.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / chemistry
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Mutation
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Pyrimidinones / chemistry*
  • Pyrroles / chemistry*
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • RNA Stability
  • Riboswitch*


  • 7-(aminomethyl)-7-deazaguanine
  • Ligands
  • Pyrimidinones
  • Pyrroles
  • Riboswitch
  • RNA
  • Adenine