Ensuring the correct folding of RNA molecules in the cell is of major importance for a large variety of biological functions. Therefore, chaperone proteins that assist RNA in adopting their functionally active states are abundant in all living organisms. An important feature of RNA chaperone proteins is that they do not require an external energy source to perform their activity, and that they interact transiently and non-specifically with their RNA targets. So far, little is known about the mechanistic details of the RNA chaperone activity of these proteins. Prominent examples of RNA chaperones are bacterial cold shock proteins (Csp) that have been reported to bind single-stranded RNA and DNA. Here, we have used advanced NMR spectroscopy techniques to investigate at atomic resolution the RNA-melting activity of CspA, the major cold shock protein of Escherichia coli, upon binding to different RNA hairpins. Real-time NMR provides detailed information on the folding kinetics and folding pathways. Finally, comparison of wild-type CspA with single-point mutants and small peptides yields insights into the complementary roles of aromatic and positively charged amino-acid side chains for the RNA chaperone activity of the protein.
© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.