Cryo-EM Structures of Human Drosha and DGCR8 in Complex with Primary MicroRNA

Mol Cell. 2020 May 7;78(3):411-422.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2020.02.016. Epub 2020 Mar 27.


Metazoan microRNAs require specific maturation steps initiated by Microprocessor, comprising Drosha and DGCR8. Lack of structural information for the assembled complex has hindered an understanding of how Microprocessor recognizes primary microRNA transcripts (pri-miRNAs). Here we present a cryoelectron microscopy structure of human Microprocessor with a pri-miRNA docked in the active site, poised for cleavage. The basal junction is recognized by a four-way intramolecular junction in Drosha, triggered by the Belt and Wedge regions that clamp over the ssRNA. The belt is important for efficiency and accuracy of pri-miRNA processing. Two dsRBDs form a molecular ruler to measure the stem length between the two dsRNA-ssRNA junctions. The specific organization of the dsRBDs near the apical junction is independent of Drosha core domains, as observed in a second structure in the partially docked state. Collectively, we derive a molecular model to explain how Microprocessor recognizes a pri-miRNA and accurately identifies the cleavage site.

Keywords: DGCR8; Drosha; Microprocessor; RNA processing; RNase III; cryo-EM; dsRBD; microRNA; pri-miRNA; structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / chemistry*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / chemistry
  • RNA, Double-Stranded / metabolism
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Ribonuclease III / chemistry*
  • Ribonuclease III / metabolism


  • DGCR8 protein, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Double-Stranded
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • DROSHA protein, human
  • Ribonuclease III