The Spliceosome: A Protein-Directed Metalloribozyme

J Mol Biol. 2017 Aug 18;429(17):2640-2653. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2017.07.010. Epub 2017 Jul 19.


Pre-mRNA splicing is executed by the ribonucleoprotein machinery spliceosome. Nearly 40 years after the discovery of pre-mRNA splicing, the atomic structure of the spliceosome has finally come to light. Four distinct conformational states of the yeast spliceosome have been captured at atomic or near-atomic resolutions. Two catalytic metal ions at the active site are specifically coordinated by the U6 small nuclear RNA (snRNA) and catalyze both the branching reaction and the exon ligation. Of the three snRNAs in the fully assembled spliceosome, U5 and U6, along with 30 contiguous nucleotides of U2 at its 5'-end, remain structurally rigid throughout the splicing reaction. The rigidity of these RNA elements is safeguarded by Prp8 and 16 core protein components, which maintain the same overall conformation in all structurally characterized spliceosomes during the splicing reaction. Only the sequences downstream of nucleotide 30 of U2 snRNA are mobile; their movement, directed by the protein components, delivers the intron branch site into the close proximity of the 5'-splice site for the branching reaction. A set of additional structural rearrangement is required for exon ligation, and the lariat junction is moved out of the active site for recruitment of the 3'-splice site and 3'-exon. The spliceosome is proven to be a protein-directed metalloribozyme.

Keywords: cryo-EM structure; mechanism; metalloribozyme; pre-mRNA splicing; spliceosome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catalytic Domain
  • Coenzymes / chemistry
  • Coenzymes / metabolism
  • Metals / chemistry
  • Metals / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • RNA Precursors / metabolism*
  • RNA Splicing*
  • RNA, Small Nuclear / chemistry
  • RNA, Small Nuclear / metabolism
  • Ribonucleoproteins / chemistry*
  • Ribonucleoproteins / metabolism*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / enzymology
  • Spliceosomes / chemistry*
  • Spliceosomes / metabolism*


  • Coenzymes
  • Metals
  • RNA Precursors
  • RNA, Small Nuclear
  • Ribonucleoproteins