Here, we show that modern solution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structures of RNA exhibit more steric clashes and conformational ambiguities than their crystallographic X-ray counterparts. To tackle these issues, we developed RNA-ff1, a new force field for structure calculation with Xplor-NIH. Using seven published NMR datasets, RNA-ff1 improves covalent geometry and MolProbity validation criteria for clashes and backbone conformation in most cases, relative to both the previous Xplor-NIH force field and the original structures associated with the experimental data. In addition, with smaller base-pair step rises in helical stems, RNA-ff1 structures enjoy more favorable base stacking. Finally, structural accuracy improves in the majority of cases, as supported by complete residual dipolar coupling cross-validation. Thus, the reported advances show great promise in bridging the quality gap that separates NMR and X-ray structures of RNA.
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