Riboswitches are structural elements found in mRNA molecules that couple small-molecule binding to regulation of gene expression, usually by controlling transcription or translation. We have determined high-resolution crystal structures of the ykkC guanidine III riboswitch from Thermobifida fusca. The riboswitch forms a classic H-type pseudoknot that includes a triple helix that is continuous with a central core of conserved nucleotides. These form a left-handed helical ramp of inter-nucleotide interactions, generating the guanidinium cation binding site. The ligand is hydrogen bonded to the Hoogsteen edges of two guanine bases. The binding pocket has a side opening that can accommodate a small side chain, shown by structures with bound methylguanidine, aminoguanidine, ethylguanidine, and agmatine. Comparison of the new structure with those of the guanidine I and II riboswitches reveals that evolution generated three different structural solutions for guanidine binding and subsequent gene regulation, although with some common elements.
Keywords: RNA structure; X-ray crystallography; gene regulation; riboregulation.
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