Tracking Native Tetrahymena Ribozyme Folding with Fluorescence

Biochemistry. 2023 Nov 21;62(22):3173-3180. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.3c00363. Epub 2023 Nov 1.


Folding of the Tetrahymena group I intron ribozyme and other structured RNAs has been measured using a catalytic activity assay to monitor the native state formation by cleavage of a radiolabeled oligonucleotide substrate. While highly effective, the assay has inherent limitations present in any radioactivity- and gel-based assay. Administrative and safety considerations arise from the radioisotope, and data collection is laborious due to the use of polyacrylamide gels. Here we describe a fluorescence-based, solution assay that allows for more efficient data acquisition. The substrate is labeled with 6-carboxyfluorescein (6FAM) fluorophore and black hole quencher (BHQ1) at the 5' and 3' ends, respectively. Substrate cleavage results in release of the quencher, increasing the fluorescence signal by an average of 30-fold. A side-by-side comparison with the radioactivity-based assay shows good agreement in monitoring Tetrahymena ribozyme folding from a misfolded conformation to the native state, albeit with increased uncertainty. The lower precision of the fluorescence assay is compensated for by the relative ease and efficiency of the workflow. In addition, this assay will allow institutions that do not use radioactive materials to monitor native folding of the Tetrahymena ribozyme, and the same strategy should be amenable to native folding of other ribozymes.

MeSH terms

  • Fluorescence
  • Introns
  • Kinetics
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • RNA, Catalytic* / metabolism
  • Tetrahymena* / genetics


  • RNA, Catalytic