Base pair probability estimates improve the prediction accuracy of RNA non-canonical base pairs

PLoS Comput Biol. 2017 Nov 6;13(11):e1005827. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005827. eCollection 2017 Nov.


Prediction of RNA tertiary structure from sequence is an important problem, but generating accurate structure models for even short sequences remains difficult. Predictions of RNA tertiary structure tend to be least accurate in loop regions, where non-canonical pairs are important for determining the details of structure. Non-canonical pairs can be predicted using a knowledge-based model of structure that scores nucleotide cyclic motifs, or NCMs. In this work, a partition function algorithm is introduced that allows the estimation of base pairing probabilities for both canonical and non-canonical interactions. Pairs that are predicted to be probable are more likely to be found in the true structure than pairs of lower probability. Pair probability estimates can be further improved by predicting the structure conserved across multiple homologous sequences using the TurboFold algorithm. These pairing probabilities, used in concert with prior knowledge of the canonical secondary structure, allow accurate inference of non-canonical pairs, an important step towards accurate prediction of the full tertiary structure. Software to predict non-canonical base pairs and pairing probabilities is now provided as part of the RNAstructure software package.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Animals
  • Base Pairing*
  • Base Sequence
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • Nucleotide Motifs
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • Software


  • RNA