Self-cleaving ribozymes were discovered 30 years ago, but their biological distribution and catalytic mechanisms are only beginning to be defined. Each ribozyme family is defined by a distinct structure, with unique active sites accelerating the same transesterification reaction across the families. Biochemical studies show that general acid-base catalysis is the most common mechanism of self-cleavage, but metal ions and metabolites can be used as cofactors. Ribozymes have been discovered in highly diverse genomic contexts throughout nature, from viroids to vertebrates. Their biological roles include self-scission during rolling-circle replication of RNA genomes, co-transcriptional processing of retrotransposons, and metabolite-dependent gene expression regulation in bacteria. Other examples, including highly conserved mammalian ribozymes, suggest that many new biological roles are yet to be discovered.
Keywords: aptazymes; retrotransposon; riboregulation; riboswitch; ribozyme; self-scission.
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