Riboswitches are non-coding elements upstream or downstream of mRNAs that, upon binding of a specific ligand, regulate transcription and/or translation initiation in bacteria, or alternative splicing in plants and fungi. We have studied thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) riboswitches regulating translation of thiM operon and transcription and translation of thiC operon in E. coli, and that of THIC in the plant A. thaliana. For all, we ascertained an induced-fit mechanism involving initial binding of the TPP followed by a conformational change leading to a higher-affinity complex. The experimental values obtained for all kinetic and thermodynamic parameters of TPP binding imply that the regulation by A. thaliana riboswitch is governed by mass-action law, whereas it is of kinetic nature for the two bacterial riboswitches. Kinetic regulation requires that the RNA polymerase pauses after synthesis of each riboswitch aptamer to leave time for TPP binding, but only when its concentration is sufficient. A quantitative model of regulation highlighted how the pausing time has to be linked to the kinetic rates of initial TPP binding to obtain an ON/OFF switch in the correct concentration range of TPP. We verified the existence of these pauses and the model prediction on their duration. Our analysis also led to quantitative estimates of the respective efficiency of kinetic and thermodynamic regulations, which shows that kinetically regulated riboswitches react more sharply to concentration variation of their ligand than thermodynamically regulated riboswitches. This rationalizes the interest of kinetic regulation and confirms empirical observations that were obtained by numerical simulations.
Keywords: Kinetic Regulation; kinITC; pyrophosphate; riboswitches; thiamine.