The wide array of vital functions that RNA performs is dependent on its ability to dynamically fold into different structures in response to intracellular and extracellular changes. RNA-binding proteins regulate much of this activity by targeting specific RNA structures or motifs. One of these structures, the 3-way RNA junction, is characteristically found in ribosomal RNA and results from the RNA folding in cis, to produce three separate helices that meet around a central unpaired region. Here we demonstrate that 3-way junctions can also form in trans as a result of the binding of microRNAs in an unconventional manner with mRNA by splinting two non-contiguous regions together. This may be used to reinforce the base of a stem-loop motif being targeted by an RNA-binding protein. Trans interactions between non-coding RNA and mRNA may be used to control the post-transcriptional regulatory code and suggests a possible role for some of the recently described transcripts of unknown function expressed from the human genome.
Keywords: RNA-binding proteins (RBPs); dark matter; microRNA (miRNA); non-coding RNA; post-transcriptional regulation; stem-loop binding protein (SLBP); structural interacting RNA (sxRNA).