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, 116 (46), 23075-23082

Single-nucleotide Control of tRNA Folding Cooperativity Under Near-Cellular Conditions


Single-nucleotide Control of tRNA Folding Cooperativity Under Near-Cellular Conditions

Kathleen A Leamy et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.


RNA folding is often studied by renaturing full-length RNA in vitro and tracking folding transitions. However, the intracellular transcript folds as it emerges from the RNA polymerase. Here, we investigate the folding pathways and stability of numerous late-transcriptional intermediates of yeast and Escherichia coli transfer RNAs (tRNAs). Transfer RNA is a highly regulated functional RNA that undergoes multiple steps of posttranscriptional processing and is found in very different lengths during its lifetime in the cell. The precursor transcript is extended on both the 5' and 3' ends of the cloverleaf core, and these extensions get trimmed before addition of the 3'-CCA and aminoacylation. We studied the thermodynamics and structures of the precursor tRNA and of late-transcriptional intermediates of the cloverleaf structure. We examined RNA folding at both the secondary and tertiary structural levels using multiple biochemical and biophysical approaches. Our findings suggest that perhaps nature has selected for a single-base addition to control folding to the functional 3D structure. In near-cellular conditions, yeast tRNAPhe and E. coli tRNAAla transcripts fold in a single, cooperative transition only when nearly all of the nucleotides in the cloverleaf are transcribed by indirectly enhancing folding cooperativity. Furthermore, native extensions on the 5' and 3' ends do not interfere with cooperative core folding. This highly controlled cooperative folding has implications for recognition of tRNA by processing and modification enzymes and quality control of tRNA in cells.

Keywords: RNA folding; folding cooperativity; tRNA processing.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interest.

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