GAAA tetraloop and conserved bulge stabilize tertiary structure of a group I intron domain

J Mol Biol. 1994 Feb 11;236(1):49-63. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1994.1117.


The 413 nucleotide self-splicing group I intron from Tetrahymena thermophila pre-rRNA contains a 160 nucleotide independently folding domain of RNA tertiary structure, the P4-P6 domain. This domain consists of sequence elements highly conserved among group I introns (P4 and P6) and peripheral extensions conserved in certain subgroups of these introns (P5abc and P6ab). The effect of mutation of selected bases on the formation of domain structure was analyzed using two probes: solvent-based Fe(II)-EDTA, which monitors backbone accessibility, and dimethyl sulfate, which monitors availability of N(1) of adenine and N(3) of cytosine. A GAAA tetraloop and an adenosine-rich bulge were found to stabilize domain tertiary structure in a sequence-specific manner. A single base change in the GAAA tetraloop disrupted Fe(II)-EDTA protection both locally and in P6a, and a specific base-pair substitution in P6a similarly disrupted protection locally and in the tetraloop; thus remote elements of the secondary structure are linked in tertiary structure. Our model of the domain's tertiary structure is refined to include this long-range tertiary interaction. The interaction requires severe bending of the domain RNA such that sequences separated by approximately 50 bases of largely double-stranded RNA are in proximity in the tertiary structure. The bending causes or allows for contact between sequences of the conserved core and sequences of the P5 extension. Thus the P5 extension may serve to stabilize the structure of the intron core in vivo.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence*
  • Conserved Sequence*
  • Edetic Acid
  • Exons
  • Ferrous Compounds
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Introns*
  • Methylation
  • Models, Structural
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • RNA Precursors / biosynthesis*
  • RNA Precursors / genetics
  • Solvents
  • Sulfuric Acid Esters
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / genetics*


  • Ferrous Compounds
  • RNA Precursors
  • Solvents
  • Sulfuric Acid Esters
  • Fe(II)-EDTA
  • Edetic Acid
  • dimethyl sulfate