The MLE DExH helicase and the roX lncRNAs are essential components of the chromatin modifying Dosage Compensation Complex (DCC) in Drosophila. To explore the mechanism of ribonucleoprotein complex assembly, we developed vitRIP, an unbiased, transcriptome-wide in vitro assay that reveals RNA binding specificity. We found that MLE has intrinsic specificity for U-/A-rich sequences and tandem stem-loop structures and binds many RNAs beyond roX in vitro. The selectivity of the helicase for physiological substrates is further enhanced by the core DCC. Unwinding of roX2 by MLE induces a highly selective RNA binding surface in the unstructured C-terminus of the MSL2 subunit and triggers-specific association of MLE and roX2 with the core DCC. The exquisite selectivity of roX2 incorporation into the DCC thus originates from intimate cooperation between the helicase and the core DCC involving two distinct RNA selection principles and their mutual refinement.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.