Base modifications affecting RNA polymerase and reverse transcriptase fidelity

Nucleic Acids Res. 2018 Jun 20;46(11):5753-5763. doi: 10.1093/nar/gky341.


Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is capable of hosting a variety of chemically diverse modifications, in both naturally-occurring post-transcriptional modifications and artificial chemical modifications used to expand the functionality of RNA. However, few studies have addressed how base modifications affect RNA polymerase and reverse transcriptase activity and fidelity. Here, we describe the fidelity of RNA synthesis and reverse transcription of modified ribonucleotides using an assay based on Pacific Biosciences Single Molecule Real-Time sequencing. Several modified bases, including methylated (m6A, m5C and m5U), hydroxymethylated (hm5U) and isomeric bases (pseudouridine), were examined. By comparing each modified base to the equivalent unmodified RNA base, we can determine how the modification affected cumulative RNA polymerase and reverse transcriptase fidelity. 5-hydroxymethyluridine and N6-methyladenosine both increased the combined error rate of T7 RNA polymerase and reverse transcriptases, while pseudouridine specifically increased the error rate of RNA synthesis by T7 RNA polymerase. In addition, we examined the frequency, mutational spectrum and sequence context of reverse transcription errors on DNA templates from an analysis of second strand DNA synthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Complementary / biosynthesis
  • DNA, Complementary / chemistry
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism*
  • RNA / biosynthesis
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcription
  • Ribonucleotides / chemistry
  • Ribonucleotides / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism*


  • DNA, Complementary
  • Ribonucleotides
  • Viral Proteins
  • RNA
  • bacteriophage T7 RNA polymerase
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases