The conformational landscape of transcription intermediates involved in the regulation of the ZMP-sensing riboswitch from Thermosinus carboxydivorans

Nucleic Acids Res. 2020 Jul 9;48(12):6970-6979. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkaa427.


Recently, prokaryotic riboswitches have been identified that regulate transcription in response to change of the concentration of secondary messengers. The ZMP (5-Aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide (AICAR))-sensing riboswitch from Thermosinus carboxydivorans is a transcriptional ON-switch that is involved in purine and carbon-1 metabolic cycles. Its aptamer domain includes the pfl motif, which features a pseudoknot, impeding rho-independent terminator formation upon stabilization by ZMP interaction. We herein investigate the conformational landscape of transcriptional intermediates including the expression platform of this riboswitch and characterize the formation and unfolding of the important pseudoknot structure in the context of increasing length of RNA transcripts. NMR spectroscopic data show that even surprisingly short pre-terminator stems are able to disrupt ligand binding and thus metabolite sensing. We further show that the pseudoknot structure, a prerequisite for ligand binding, is preformed in transcription intermediates up to a certain length. Our results describe the conformational changes of 13 transcription intermediates of increasing length to delineate the change in structure as mRNA is elongated during transcription. We thus determine the length of the key transcription intermediate to which addition of a single nucleotide leads to a drastic drop in ZMP affinity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aptamers, Nucleotide / chemistry
  • Aptamers, Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Firmicutes / genetics
  • Firmicutes / ultrastructure
  • Ligands
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • Purines / metabolism
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Ribonucleotides / chemistry
  • Ribonucleotides / genetics*
  • Riboswitch / genetics*


  • Aptamers, Nucleotide
  • Ligands
  • Purines
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • Ribonucleotides
  • Riboswitch
  • purine

Supplementary concepts

  • Thermosinus carboxydivorans