Four RNA families with functional transient structures

RNA Biol. 2015;12(1):5-20. doi: 10.1080/15476286.2015.1008373.


Protein-coding and non-coding RNA transcripts perform a wide variety of cellular functions in diverse organisms. Several of their functional roles are expressed and modulated via RNA structure. A given transcript, however, can have more than a single functional RNA structure throughout its life, a fact which has been previously overlooked. Transient RNA structures, for example, are only present during specific time intervals and cellular conditions. We here introduce four RNA families with transient RNA structures that play distinct and diverse functional roles. Moreover, we show that these transient RNA structures are structurally well-defined and evolutionarily conserved. Since Rfam annotates one structure for each family, there is either no annotation for these transient structures or no such family. Thus, our alignments either significantly update and extend the existing Rfam families or introduce a new RNA family to Rfam. For each of the four RNA families, we compile a multiple-sequence alignment based on experimentally verified transient and dominant (dominant in terms of either the thermodynamic stability and/or attention received so far) RNA secondary structures using a combination of automated search via covariance model and manual curation. The first alignment is the Trp operon leader which regulates the operon transcription in response to tryptophan abundance through alternative structures. The second alignment is the HDV ribozyme which we extend to the 5' flanking sequence. This flanking sequence is involved in the regulation of the transcript's self-cleavage activity. The third alignment is the 5' UTR of the maturation protein from Levivirus which contains a transient structure that temporarily postpones the formation of the final inhibitory structure to allow translation of maturation protein. The fourth and last alignment is the SAM riboswitch which regulates the downstream gene expression by assuming alternative structures upon binding of SAM. All transient and dominant structures are mapped to our new alignments introduced here.

Keywords: HDV ribozyme; Levivirus; SAM riboswitch; co-transcriptional RNA folding; gene expression; mutually exclusive RNA structures; regulatory RNA structures; transient RNA structures; trp operon leader.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / virology*
  • Levivirus / genetics*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • RNA / metabolism*
  • RNA, Catalytic / metabolism
  • RNA, Viral / chemistry
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Riboswitch
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Tryptophan / genetics


  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • RNA, Catalytic
  • RNA, Viral
  • Riboswitch
  • RNA
  • Tryptophan