CsdA is one of five E. coli DEAD-box helicases and as a cold-shock protein assists RNA structural remodeling at low temperatures. The helicase has been shown to catalyze duplex unwinding in an ATP-dependent way and accelerate annealing of complementary RNAs, but detailed kinetic analyses are missing. Therefore, we performed kinetic measurements using a coupled annealing and strand displacement assay with high temporal resolution to analyze how CsdA balances the two converse activities. We furthermore tested the hypothesis that the unwinding activity of DEAD-box helicases is largely determined by the substrate's thermodynamic stability using full-length CsdA and a set of RNAs with constant length, but increasing GC content. The rate constants for strand displacement did indeed decrease with increasing duplex stability, with a calculated free energy between -31.3 and -40 kcal/mol being the limit for helix unwinding. Thus, our data generally support the above hypothesis, showing that for CsdA substrate thermal stability is an important rate limiting factor.
Keywords: CsdA; DEAD-box helicase; DeaD; FRET; RNA annealing; RNA chaperone; StpA; kinetics; strand displacement.