Although the majority of the initial G-quadruplex studies were performed on DNA molecules, there currently exists a rapidly growing interest in the investigation of those formed in RNA molecules that possess high potential of acting as gene expression regulatory elements. Indeed, G-quadruplexes found in the 5'-untranslated regions of mRNAs have been reported to be widespread within the human transcriptome and to act as general translational repressors. In addition to translation regulation, several other mRNA maturation steps and events, including mRNA splicing, polyadenylation and localization, have been shown to be influenced by the presence of these RNA G-quadruplexes. Bioinformatic approaches have identified thousands of potential RNA G-quadruplex sequences in the human transcriptome. Clearly there is a need for the development of rapid, simple and informative techniques and methodologies with which the ability of these sequences, and of any potential new regulatory elements, to fold into G-quadruplexes in vitro can be examined. This report describes an integrated methodology for monitoring RNA G-quadruplexes formation that combines bioinformatic algorithms, secondary structure prediction, in-line probing with semi-quantification analysis and structural representation software. The power of this approach is illustrated, step-by-step, with the determination of the structure adopted by a potential G-quadruplex sequence found in the 5'-untranslated region of the cAMP responsive element modulator (CREM) mRNA. The results unambiguously show that the CREM sequence folds into a G-quadruplex structure in the presence of a physiological concentration of potassium ions. This in-line probing-based method is easy to use, robust, reproducible and informative in the study of RNA G-quadruplex formation.
Keywords: In-line probing; RNA G-quadruplex; RNA representation; RNA structure; RNA structure prediction.
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