DEAD-box helicases perform diverse cellular functions in virtually all steps of RNA metabolism from Bacteria to Humans. Although DEAD-box helicases share a highly conserved core domain, the enzymes catalyze a wide range of biochemical reactions. In addition to the well established RNA unwinding and corresponding ATPase activities, DEAD-box helicases promote duplex formation and displace proteins from RNA. They can also function as assembly platforms for larger ribonucleoprotein complexes, and as metabolite sensors. This review aims to provide a perspective on the diverse biochemical features of DEAD-box helicases and connections to structural information. We discuss these data in the context of a model that views the enzymes as integrators of RNA, nucleotide, and protein binding. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: The Biology of RNA helicases - Modulation for life.
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