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1.  An Immature Retroviral RNA Genome Resembles a Kinetically Trapped Intermediate State 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(11):6061-6068.
Retroviral virions initially assemble in an immature form that differs from that of the mature infectious particle. The RNA genomes in both immature and infectious particles are dimers, and interactions between the RNA dimer and the viral Gag protein ensure selective packaging into nascent immature virions. We used high-sensitivity selective 2′-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE) to obtain nucleotide-resolution structural information from scarce, femtomole quantities of Moloney murine leukemia virus (MuLV) RNA inside authentic virions and from viral RNA extracted from immature (protease-minus) virions. Our secondary structure model of the dimerization and packaging domain indicated that a stable intermolecular duplex known as PAL2, previously shown to be present in mature infectious MuLV particles, was sequestered in an alternate stem-loop structure inside immature virions. The intermediate state corresponded closely to a late-folding intermediate that we detected in time-resolved studies of the free MuLV RNA, suggesting that the immature RNA structure reflects trapping of the intermediate folding state by interactions in the immature virion. We propose models for the RNA-protein interactions that trap the RNA in the immature state and for the conformational rearrangement that occurs during maturation of virion particles.
IMPORTANCE The structure of the RNA genome in mature retroviruses has been studied extensively, whereas very little was known about the RNA structure in immature virions. The immature RNA structure is important because it is the form initially selected for packaging in new virions and may have other roles. This lack of information was due to the difficulty of isolating sufficient viral RNA for study. In this work, we apply a high-sensitivity and nucleotide-resolution approach to examine the structure of the dimerization and packaging domain of Moloney murine leukemia virus. We find that the genomic RNA is packaged in a high-energy state, suggesting that interactions within the virion hold or capture the RNA before it reaches its most stable state. This new structural information makes it possible to propose models for the conformational changes in the RNA genome that accompany retroviral maturation.
PMCID: PMC4093898  PMID: 24623442
2.  The genetic code as expressed through relationships between mRNA structure and protein function 
FEBS letters  2013;587(8):1180-1188.
Structured RNA elements within messenger RNA often direct or modulate the cellular production of active proteins. As reviewed here, RNA structures have been discovered that govern nearly every step in protein production: mRNA production and stability; translation initiation, elongation, and termination; protein folding; and cellular localization. Regulatory RNA elements are common within RNAs from every domain of life. This growing body of RNA-mediated mechanisms continues to reveal new ways in which mRNA structure regulates translation. We integrate examples from several different classes of RNA structure-mediated regulation to present a global perspective that suggests that the secondary and tertiary structure of RNA ultimately constitutes an additional level of the genetic code that both guides and regulates protein biosynthesis.
PMCID: PMC4269304  PMID: 23499436
3.  Long-Range Architecture in a Viral RNA Genome 
Biochemistry  2013;52(18):3182-3190.
We have developed a model for the secondary structure of the 1058-nucleotide plus-strand RNA genome of the icosahedral satellite tobacco mosaic virus (STMV) using nucleotide-resolution SHAPE chemical probing of the viral RNA isolated from virions and within the virion, perturbation of interactions distant in the primary sequence, and atomic force microscopy. These data are consistent with long-range base pairing interactions and a three-domain genome architecture. The compact domains of the STMV RNA have dimensions of 10 to 45 nm. Each of the three domains corresponds to a specific functional component of the virus: The central domain corresponds to the coding sequence of the single (capsid) protein encoded by the virus, whereas the 5′ and 3′ untranslated domains span signals essential for translation and replication, respectively. This three-domain architecture is compatible with interactions between the capsid protein and short RNA helices previously visualized by crystallography. STMV is among the simplest of the icosahedral viruses but, nonetheless, has an RNA genome with a complex higher-order structure that likely reflects high information content and an evolutionary relationship between RNA domain structure and essential replicative functions.
PMCID: PMC3673720  PMID: 23614526
4.  RNA Structures Facilitate Recombination-Mediated Gene Swapping in HIV-1 ▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;84(24):12675-12682.
Many viruses, including retroviruses, undergo frequent recombination, a process which can increase their rate of adaptive evolution. In the case of HIV, recombination has been responsible for the generation of numerous intersubtype recombinant variants with epidemiological importance in the AIDS pandemic. Although it is known that fragments of genetic material do not combine randomly during the generation of recombinant viruses, the mechanisms that lead to preferential recombination at specific sites are not fully understood. Here we reanalyze recent independent data defining (i) the structure of a complete HIV-1 RNA genome and (ii) favorable sites for recombination. We show that in the absence of selection acting on recombinant genomes, regions harboring RNA structures in the NL4-3 model strain are strongly predictive of recombination breakpoints in the HIV-1 env genes of primary isolates. In addition, we found that breakpoints within recombinant HIV-1 genomes sampled from human populations, which have been acted upon extensively by natural selection, also colocalize with RNA structures. Critically, junctions between genes are enriched in structured RNA elements and are also preferred sites for generating functional recombinant forms. These data suggest that RNA structure-mediated recombination allows the virus to exchange intact genes rather than arbitrary subgene fragments, which is likely to increase the overall viability and replication success of the recombinant HIV progeny.
PMCID: PMC3004330  PMID: 20881047
5.  Statistical analysis of SHAPE-directed RNA secondary structure modeling 
Biochemistry  2013;52(4):596-599.
The ability to predict RNA secondary structure is fundamental for understanding and manipulating RNA function. The structural information obtained from selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE) experiments greatly improves the accuracy of RNA secondary structure prediction. Recently, Das and colleagues [Kladwang et al., Biochemistry 50:8049 (2011)] proposed a “bootstrapping” approach to estimate the variance and helix-by-helix confidence levels of predicted secondary structures based on resampling (randomizing and summing) the measured SHAPE data. We show that the specific resampling approach described by Kladwang et al. introduces systematic errors and underestimates confidence in secondary structure prediction using SHAPE data. Instead, a leave-data-out jackknife approach better estimates the influence of a given experimental dataset on SHAPE-directed secondary structure modeling. Even when 35% of the data were left out in the jackknife approach, the confidence levels of SHAPE-directed secondary structure prediction were significantly higher than those calculated by Das and colleagues using bootstrapping. Helix confidence levels were thus significantly underestimated in the recent study, and resampling approach implemented by Kladwang et al. is not an appropriate metric for assigning confidences in SHAPE-directed secondary structure modeling.
PMCID: PMC3558531  PMID: 23286327
6.  Principles for understanding the accuracy of SHAPE-directed RNA structure modeling 
Biochemistry  2013;52(4):588-595.
Accurate RNA structure modeling is an important, incompletely solved, challenge. Single-nucleotide resolution SHAPE (selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension) yields an experimental measurement of local nucleotide flexibility that can be incorporated as pseudo-free energy change constraints to direct secondary structure predictions. Prior work from our laboratory has emphasized both the overall accuracy of this approach and the need for nuanced interpretation of some apparent discrepancies between modeled and accepted structures. Recent studies by Das and colleagues [Kladwang et al., Biochemistry 50:8049 (2011) and Nat. Chem. 3:954 (2011)], focused on analyzing six small RNAs, yielded poorer RNA secondary structure predictions than expected based on prior benchmarking efforts. To understand the features that led to these divergent results, we re-examined four RNAs yielding the poorest results in this recent work – tRNAPhe, the adenine and cyclic-di-GMP riboswitches, and 5S rRNA. Most of the errors reported by Das and colleagues reflected non-standard experiment and data processing choices, and selective scoring rules. For two RNAs, tRNAPhe and the adenine riboswitch, secondary structure predictions are nearly perfect if no experimental information is included but were rendered inaccurate by the Das and colleagues SHAPE data. When best practices were used, single-sequence SHAPE-directed secondary structure modeling recovered ~93% of individual base pairs and greater than 90% of helices in the four RNAs, essentially indistinguishable from the mutate-and-map approach with the exception of a single helix in the 5S rRNA. The field of experimentally-directed RNA secondary structure prediction is entering a phase focused on the most difficult prediction challenges. We outline five constructive principles for guiding this field forward.
PMCID: PMC3578230  PMID: 23316814
7.  Fingerprinting Non-Canonical and Tertiary RNA Structures by Differential SHAPE Reactivity 
Journal of the American Chemical Society  2012;134(32):13160-13163.
Many RNA structures are comprised of simple secondary structure elements linked by a few, critical, tertiary interactions. SHAPE chemistry has made interrogation of RNA dynamics at single-nucleotide resolution straightforward. However, de novo identification of nucleotides involved in tertiary interactions remains a challenge. Here we show that nucleotides that form non-canonical or tertiary contacts are detected by comparing information obtained using two SHAPE reagents, N-methylisatoic anhydride (NMIA) and 1-methyl-6-nitroisatoic anhydride (1M6). Nucleotides that react preferentially with NMIA exhibit slow local nucleotide dynamics and preferentially adopt the less common C2′-endo ribose conformation. Experiments and first-principle calculations show 1M6 reacts preferentially with nucleotides in which one face of the nucleobase allows an unhindered stacking interaction with the reagent. Differential SHAPE reactivities were used to detect non-canonical and tertiary interactions in four RNAs with diverse structures and to identify pre-formed non-canonical interactions in partially folded RNAs. Differential SHAPE reactivity analysis will enable experimentally concise, large-scale identification of tertiary structure elements and ligand binding sites in complex RNAs and in diverse biological environments.
PMCID: PMC3425954  PMID: 22852530
8.  Comparison of SIV and HIV-1 Genomic RNA Structures Reveals Impact of Sequence Evolution on Conserved and Non-Conserved Structural Motifs 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(4):e1003294.
RNA secondary structure plays a central role in the replication and metabolism of all RNA viruses, including retroviruses like HIV-1. However, structures with known function represent only a fraction of the secondary structure reported for HIV-1NL4-3. One tool to assess the importance of RNA structures is to examine their conservation over evolutionary time. To this end, we used SHAPE to model the secondary structure of a second primate lentiviral genome, SIVmac239, which shares only 50% sequence identity at the nucleotide level with HIV-1NL4-3. Only about half of the paired nucleotides are paired in both genomic RNAs and, across the genome, just 71 base pairs form with the same pairing partner in both genomes. On average the RNA secondary structure is thus evolving at a much faster rate than the sequence. Structure at the Gag-Pro-Pol frameshift site is maintained but in a significantly altered form, while the impact of selection for maintaining a protein binding interaction can be seen in the conservation of pairing partners in the small RRE stems where Rev binds. Structures that are conserved between SIVmac239 and HIV-1NL4-3 also occur at the 5′ polyadenylation sequence, in the plus strand primer sites, PPT and cPPT, and in the stem-loop structure that includes the first splice acceptor site. The two genomes are adenosine-rich and cytidine-poor. The structured regions are enriched in guanosines, while unpaired regions are enriched in adenosines, and functionaly important structures have stronger base pairing than nonconserved structures. We conclude that much of the secondary structure is the result of fortuitous pairing in a metastable state that reforms during sequence evolution. However, secondary structure elements with important function are stabilized by higher guanosine content that allows regions of structure to persist as sequence evolution proceeds, and, within the confines of selective pressure, allows structures to evolve.
Author Summary
We have taken advantage of the rapid evolution of primate lentiviruses to assess the conservation of secondary structure in the viral RNA genome. We determined the structure of the SIVmac239 RNA genome to allow a detailed comparison with the previously determined structure of the HIV-1NL4-3 genome. In comparing the two structures, we find very few conserved base pairs with the same pairing partners, indicating that RNA structure is evolving even faster than the sequence. This suggests that most of the genome is in a metastable state that refolds during sequence evolution. Specific areas of structure that are required for function are maintained by the clustering of guanosines in the otherwise adenosine-rich genome, although the precise organization of the structure evolves. The strong effect of selection on maintainence of protein recognition sites can be seen in the conservation of pairing partners within the Rev binding sites in the RRE RNA. We propose that the more stable elements of RNA structure that are needed for function are susceptible to mutation during viral DNA synthesis. This causes the structures to evolve rapidly, yet still within the constricts of selective pressure, allowing maintenance of function.
PMCID: PMC3616985  PMID: 23593004
9.  Femtomole SHAPE reveals regulatory structures in the authentic XMRV RNA genome 
Journal of the American Chemical Society  2011;133(50):20326-20334.
Higher-order structure influences critical functions in nearly all non-coding and coding RNAs. Most single-nucleotide resolution RNA structure determination technologies cannot be used to analyze RNA from scarce biological samples, like viral genomes. To make quantitative RNA structure analysis applicable to a much wider array of RNA structure-function problems, we developed and applied high-sensitivity selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE) to structural analysis of authentic genomic RNA of the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV). For analysis of fluorescently labeled cDNAs generated in high-sensitivity SHAPE experiments, we developed a two-color capillary electrophoresis approach with zeptomole molecular detection limits and sub-femtomole sensitivity for complete SHAPE experiments involving hundreds of individual RNA structure measurements. High-sensitivity SHAPE data correlated closely (R = 0.89) with data obtained by conventional capillary electrophoresis. Using high-sensitivity SHAPE, we determined the dimeric structure of the XMRV packaging domain, examined dynamic interactions between a packaging domain RNA and viral nucleocapsid protein inside virion particles, and identified the packaging signal for this virus. Despite extensive sequence differences between XMRV and the intensively studied Moloney murine leukemia virus, architectures of the regulatory domains are similar and reveal common principles of gammaretrovirus RNA genome packaging.
PMCID: PMC3241870  PMID: 22126209
10.  Exploring RNA Structural Codes with SHAPE Chemistry 
Accounts of chemical research  2011;44(12):1280-1291.
PMCID: PMC3177967  PMID: 21615079
11.  Three-Dimensional RNA Structure Refinement by Hydroxyl Radical Probing 
Nature methods  2012;9(6):603-608.
Molecular modeling guided by experimentally-derived structural information is an attractive approach for three-dimensional structure determination of complex RNAs that are not amenable to study by high-resolution methods. Hydroxyl radical probing (HRP), performed routinely in many laboratories, provides a measure of solvent accessibility at individual nucleotides. HRP measurements have, to date, only been used to evaluate RNA models qualitatively. Here, we report development of a quantitative structure refinement approach using HRP measurements to drive discrete molecular dynamics simulations for RNAs ranging in size from 80 to 230 nucleotides. HRP reactivities were first used to identify RNAs that form extensive helical packing interactions. For these RNAs, we achieved highly significant structure predictions, given inputs of RNA sequence and base pairing. This HRP-directed tertiary structure refinement approach generates robust structural hypotheses useful for guiding explorations of structure-function interrelationships in RNA.
PMCID: PMC3422565  PMID: 22504587
13.  SHAPE-Directed RNA Secondary Structure Prediction 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2010;52(2):150-158.
The diverse functional roles of RNA are determined by its underlying structure. Accurate and comprehensive knowledge of RNA structure would inform a broader understanding of RNA biology and facilitate exploiting RNA as a biotechnological tool and therapeutic target. Determining the pattern of base pairing, or secondary structure, of RNA is a first step in these endeavors. Advances in experimental, computational, and comparative analysis approaches for analyzing secondary structure have yielded accurate structures for many small RNAs, but only a few large (>500 nts) RNAs. In addition, most current methods for determining a secondary structure require considerable effort, analytical expertise, and technical ingenuity. In this review, we outline an efficient strategy for developing accurate secondary structure models for RNAs of arbitrary length. This approach melds structural information obtained using SHAPE chemistry with structure prediction using nearest-neighbor rules and the dynamic programming algorithm implemented in the RNAstructure program. Prediction accuracies reach ≥95% for RNAs on the kilobase scale. This approach facilitates both development of new models and refinement of existing RNA structure models, which we illustrate using the Gag-Pol frameshift element in an HIV-1 M-group genome. Most promisingly, integrated experimental and computational refinement brings closer the ultimate goal of efficiently and accurately establishing the secondary structure for any RNA sequence.
PMCID: PMC2941709  PMID: 20554050
14.  Selective 2′-Hydroxyl Acylation Analyzed by Protection from Exoribonuclease 
Selective 2′-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension (SHAPE) is a powerful approach for characterizing RNA structure and dynamics at single-nucleotide resolution. However, SHAPE technology is limited, sometimes severely, because primer extension detection obscures structural information for ~15 nts at the 5′ end and 40–60 nts at the 3′ end of the RNA. Moreover, detection by primer extension is more complex than the actual structure-selective chemical interrogation step. Here we quantify covalent adducts in RNA directly by adduct-inhibited exoribonuclease degradation. RNA 2′-O-adducts block processivity of a 3′→5′ exoribonuclease, RNase R, to produce fragments that terminate three nucleotides 3′ of the modification site. We analyzed the structure of the native thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) riboswitch aptamer domain and identified large changes in local nucleotide dynamics and global RNA structure upon ligand binding. In addition to numerous changes that can be attributed to ligand recognition, we identify a single nucleotide bulge register shift, distant from the binding site, that stabilizes the ligand-bound structure. Selective 2′-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by protection from exoribonuclease (RNase-detected SHAPE) should prove broadly useful for facile structural analysis of small non-coding RNAs and for RNAs that have functionally critical structures at their 5′ and 3′ ends.
PMCID: PMC2912424  PMID: 20597503
15.  Non-Hierarchical Ribonucleoprotein Assembly Suggests a Strain-Propagation Model for Protein-Facilitated RNA Folding 
Biochemistry  2010;49(26):5418-5425.
Proteins play diverse and critical roles in cellular ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) including promoting formation of and stabilizing active RNA conformations. Yet, the conformational changes required to convert large RNAs into an active RNPs have proven difficult to characterize fully. Here we use high-resolution approaches to monitor both local nucleotide flexibility and solvent accessibility for nearly all nucleotides in the bI3 group I intron RNP in four assembly states: the free RNA, maturase-bound RNA, Mrs1-bound RNA, and the complete six-component holocomplex. The free RNA is misfolded relative to the secondary structure required for splicing. The maturase and Mrs1 proteins each stabilized long-range tertiary interactions but neither protein alone induced folding into the functional secondary structure. In contrast, simultaneous binding by both proteins results in large secondary structure rearrangements in the RNA and yielded the catalytically active group I intron structure. Secondary and tertiary folding of the RNA component of the bI3 RNP are thus not independent: RNA folding is strongly non-hierarchical. These results emphasize that protein-mediated stabilization of RNA tertiary interactions functions to pull the secondary structure into an energetically disfavored, but functional, conformation and emphasize a new role for facilitator proteins in RNP assembly.
PMCID: PMC2894283  PMID: 20533823
16.  Robust and Generic RNA Modeling Using Inferred Constraints: A Structure for the Hepatitis C Virus IRES Pseudoknot Domain 
Biochemistry  2010;49(24):4931-4933.
RNA function is dependent on its structure, yet three-dimensional folds for most biologically important RNAs are unknown. We develop a generic discrete molecular dynamics (DMD)-based modeling system that uses long-range constraints inferred from diverse biochemical or bioinformatic analyses to create statistically significant (p < 0.01) native-like folds for RNAs of known structure ranging from 45 to 158 nucleotides. We then predict the unknown structure of the hepatitis C virus IRES pseudoknot domain. The resulting RNA model rationalizes independent solvent accessibility and cryo-electron microscopy structure information. The pseudoknot positions the AUG start codon near the mRNA channel and is tRNA-like, suggesting the IRES employs molecular mimicry as a functional strategy.
PMCID: PMC2889920  PMID: 20545364
17.  Advances in RNA Secondary and Tertiary Structure Analysis by Chemical Probing 
RNA is arguably the most versatile biological macromolecule due to its ability both to encode and to manipulate genetic information. The diverse roles of RNA depend on its ability to fold back on itself to form biologically functional structures that bind small molecules and large protein ligands, to change conformation, and to affect the cellular regulatory state. These features of RNA biology can be structurally interrogated using chemical mapping experiments. The usefulness and applications of RNA chemical probing technologies have expanded dramatically over the past five years due to several critical advances. These innovations include new sequence-independent RNA chemistries, algorithmic tools for high-throughput analysis of complex data sets composed of thousands of measurements, new approaches for interpreting chemical probing data for both secondary and tertiary structure prediction, facile methods for following time-dependent processes, and the willingness of individual research groups to tackle increasingly bold problems in RNA structural biology.
PMCID: PMC2916962  PMID: 20447823
18.  Secondary Structure of the Mature Ex Virio Moloney Murine Leukemia Virus Genomic RNA Dimerization Domain ▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;84(2):898-906.
Retroviral genomes are dimeric, comprised of two sense-strand RNAs linked at their 5′ ends by noncovalent base pairing and tertiary interactions. Viral maturation involves large-scale morphological changes in viral proteins and in genomic RNA dimer structures to yield infectious virions. Structural studies have largely focused on simplified in vitro models of genomic RNA dimers even though the relationship between these models and authentic viral RNA is unknown. We evaluate the secondary structure of the minimal dimerization domain in genomes isolated from Moloney murine leukemia virions using a quantitative and single nucleotide resolution RNA structure analysis technology (selective 2′-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension, or SHAPE). Results are consistent with an architecture in which the RNA dimer is stabilized by four primary interactions involving two sets of intermolecular base pairs and two loop-loop interactions. The dimerization domain can independently direct its own folding since heating and refolding reproduce the same structure as visualized in genomic RNA isolated from virions. Authentic ex virio RNA has a SHAPE reactivity profile similar to that of a simplified transcript dimer generated in vitro, with the important exception of a region that appears to form a compact stem-loop only in the virion-isolated RNA. Finally, we analyze the conformational changes that accompany folding of monomers into dimers in vitro. These experiments support well-defined structural models for an authentic dimerization domain and also emphasize that many features of mature genomic RNA dimers can be reproduced in vitro using properly designed, simplified RNAs.
PMCID: PMC2798349  PMID: 19889760
19.  Native-like RNA tertiary structures using a sequence-encoded cleavage agent and refinement by discrete molecular dynamics 
The difficulty of analyzing higher order RNA structure, especially for folding intermediates and for RNAs whose functions require domains that are conformationally flexible, emphasizes the need for new approaches for modeling RNA tertiary structure accurately. Here, we report a concise approach that makes use of facile RNA structure probing experiments that are then interpreted using a computational algorithm, carefully tailored to optimize both the resolution and refinement speed for the resulting structures, without requiring user intervention. The RNA secondary structure is first established using SHAPE chemistry. We then use a sequence-directed cleavage agent, that can be placed arbitrarily in many helical motifs, to obtain high quality inter-residue distances. We interpret this in-solution chemical information using a fast, coarse grained, discrete molecular dynamics engine in which each RNA nucleotide is represented by pseudoatoms for the phosphate, ribose and nucleobase groups. By this approach, we refine base paired positions in yeast tRNAAsp to 4 Å RMSD without any preexisting information or assumptions about secondary or tertiary structures. This blended experimental and computational approach has the potential to yield native-like models for the diverse universe of functionally important RNAs whose structures cannot be characterized by conventional structural methods.
PMCID: PMC2664099  PMID: 19193004
20.  Architecture and Secondary Structure of an Entire HIV-1 RNA Genome 
Nature  2009;460(7256):711-716.
Single-stranded RNA viruses encompass broad classes of infectious agents and cause the common cold, cancer, AIDS, and other serious health threats. Viral replication is regulated at many levels, including using conserved genomic RNA structures. Most potential regulatory elements within viral RNA genomes are uncharacterized. Here we report the structure of an entire HIV-1 genome at single nucleotide resolution using SHAPE, a high-throughput RNA analysis technology. The genome encodes protein structure at two levels. In addition to the correspondence between RNA and protein primary sequences, a correlation exists between high levels of RNA structure and sequences that encode inter-domain loops in HIV proteins. This correlation suggests RNA structure modulates ribosome elongation to promote native protein folding. Some simple genome elements previously shown to be important, including the ribosomal gag-pol frameshift stem-loop, are components of larger RNA motifs. We also identify organizational principles for unstructured RNA regions. Highly used splice acceptors lie in unstructured motifs and hypervariable regions are sequestered from flanking genome regions by stable insulator helices. These results emphasize that the HIV-1 genome and, potentially, many coding RNAs are punctuated by numerous previously unrecognized regulatory motifs and that extensive RNA structure may constitute an additional level of the genetic code.
PMCID: PMC2724670  PMID: 19661910
21.  The Mrs1 Splicing Factor Binds the bI3 Group I Intron at Each of Two Tetraloop-Receptor Motifs 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e8983.
Most large ribozymes require protein cofactors in order to function efficiently. The yeast mitochondrial bI3 group I intron requires two proteins for efficient splicing, Mrs1 and the bI3 maturase. Mrs1 has evolved from DNA junction resolvases to function as an RNA cofactor for at least two group I introns; however, the RNA binding site and the mechanism by which Mrs1 facilitates splicing were unknown. Here we use high-throughput RNA structure analysis to show that Mrs1 binds a ubiquitous RNA tertiary structure motif, the GNRA tetraloop-receptor interaction, at two sites in the bI3 RNA. Mrs1 also interacts at similar tetraloop-receptor elements, as well as other structures, in the self-folding Azoarcus group I intron and in the RNase P enzyme. Thus, Mrs1 recognizes general features found in the tetraloop-receptor motif. Identification of the two Mrs1 binding sites now makes it possible to create a model of the complete six-component bI3 ribonucleoprotein. All protein cofactors bind at the periphery of the RNA such that every long-range RNA tertiary interaction is stabilized by protein binding, involving either Mrs1 or the bI3 maturase. This work emphasizes the strong evolutionary pressure to bolster RNA tertiary structure with RNA-binding interactions as seen in the ribosome, spliceosome, and other large RNA machines.
PMCID: PMC2813881  PMID: 20126554
22.  Strong Correlation Between SHAPE Chemistry and the Generalized NMR Order Parameter (S2) in RNA 
Journal of the American Chemical Society  2008;130(37):12244-12245.
The functions of most RNA molecules are critically dependent on the distinct local dynamics that characterize secondary structure and tertiary interactions and on structural changes that occur upon binding by proteins and small molecule ligands. Measurements of RNA dynamics at nucleotide resolution set the foundation for understanding the roles of individual residues in folding, catalysis, and ligand recognition. In favorable cases, local order in small RNAs can be quantitatively analyzed by NMR in terms of a generalized order parameter, S2. Alternatively, SHAPE (selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension) chemistry measures local nucleotide flexibility in RNAs of any size using structure-sensitive reagents that acylate the 2'-hydroxyl position. In this work, we compare per-residue RNA dynamics, analyzed by both S2 and SHAPE, for three RNAs: the HIV-1 TAR element, the U1A protein binding site, and the Tetrahymena telomerase stem loop 4. We find a very strong correlation between the two measurements: nucleotides with high SHAPE reactivities consistently have low S2 values. We conclude that SHAPE chemistry quantitatively reports local nucleotide dynamics and can be used with confidence to analyze dynamics in large RNAs, RNA-protein complexes, and RNAs in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2712629  PMID: 18710236
23.  Two distinct binding modes of a protein cofactor with its target RNA 
Journal of molecular biology  2006;361(4):771-784.
Like most cellular RNA enzymes, the bI5 group I intron requires binding by a protein cofactor to fold correctly. Here, we use single-molecule approaches to monitor the structural dynamics of the bI5 RNA in real time as it assembles with its CBP2 protein cofactor. These experiments show that CBP2 binds to the target RNA in two distinct modes with apparently opposite effects: a “nonspecific” mode that forms rapidly and induces large conformational fluctuations in the RNA, and a “specific” mode that forms slowly and stabilizes the native RNA structure. The bI5 RNA folds though multiple pathways toward the native state, typically traversing dynamic intermediate states induced by nonspecific binding of CBP2. These results suggest that the protein cofactor-assisted RNA folding involves sequential nonspecific and specific protein-RNA interactions. The nonspecific interaction increases the local concentration of CBP2 and the number of conformational states accessible to the RNA, potentially promoting the formation of specific RNA-protein interactions.
PMCID: PMC2633024  PMID: 16872630
24.  A Three-fold RNA-Protein Interface in the Signal Recognition Particle Gates Native Complex Assembly 
Journal of molecular biology  2007;369(2):512-524.
Intermediate states play well established roles in the folding and misfolding reactions of individual RNA and protein molecules. In contrast, the roles of transient structural intermediates in multi-component ribonucleoprotein (RNP) assembly processes and their potential for misassembly are largely unexplored. The mammalian signal recognition particle SRP19 protein is unstructured but forms a compact core domain and two extended RNA-binding loops upon binding the SRP RNA. The SRP54 protein subsequently binds to the fully assembled SRP19-RNA complex to form an intimate three-fold interface with both SRP19 and the SRP RNA and without significantly altering the structure of SRP19. We show, however, that the presence of SRP54 during SRP19-SRP RNA assembly dramatically alters the folding energy landscape to create a non-native folding pathway that leads to an aberrant SRP19-RNA conformation. The misassembled complex arises from the surprising ability of SRP54 to bind rapidly to an SRP19-RNA assembly intermediate and to interfere with subsequent folding of one of the SRP19 RNA-binding loops at the three-way protein-RNA interface. An incorrect temporal order of assembly thus readily yields a non-native three-component ribonucleoprotein particle. We propose there may exist a general requirement to regulate the order of interaction in multi-component RNP assembly by spatial or temporal compartmentalization of individual constituents in the cell.
PMCID: PMC1940241  PMID: 17434535
Ribonucleoprotein assembly and misassembly; compartmentalization; energy landscape
25.  High-Throughput SHAPE Analysis Reveals Structures in HIV-1 Genomic RNA Strongly Conserved across Distinct Biological States 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(4):e96.
Replication and pathogenesis of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is tightly linked to the structure of its RNA genome, but genome structure in infectious virions is poorly understood. We invent high-throughput SHAPE (selective 2′-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension) technology, which uses many of the same tools as DNA sequencing, to quantify RNA backbone flexibility at single-nucleotide resolution and from which robust structural information can be immediately derived. We analyze the structure of HIV-1 genomic RNA in four biologically instructive states, including the authentic viral genome inside native particles. Remarkably, given the large number of plausible local structures, the first 10% of the HIV-1 genome exists in a single, predominant conformation in all four states. We also discover that noncoding regions functioning in a regulatory role have significantly lower (p-value < 0.0001) SHAPE reactivities, and hence more structure, than do viral coding regions that function as the template for protein synthesis. By directly monitoring protein binding inside virions, we identify the RNA recognition motif for the viral nucleocapsid protein. Seven structurally homologous binding sites occur in a well-defined domain in the genome, consistent with a role in directing specific packaging of genomic RNA into nascent virions. In addition, we identify two distinct motifs that are targets for the duplex destabilizing activity of this same protein. The nucleocapsid protein destabilizes local HIV-1 RNA structure in ways likely to facilitate initial movement both of the retroviral reverse transcriptase from its tRNA primer and of the ribosome in coding regions. Each of the three nucleocapsid interaction motifs falls in a specific genome domain, indicating that local protein interactions can be organized by the long-range architecture of an RNA. High-throughput SHAPE reveals a comprehensive view of HIV-1 RNA genome structure, and further application of this technology will make possible newly informative analysis of any RNA in a cellular transcriptome.
Author Summary
The function of the RNA genome of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is determined both by its sequence and by its ability to fold back on itself to form specific higher-order structures. In order to describe physical structures in a region of the HIV RNA genome known to play multiple, critical roles in viral replication and pathogenesis, we invent a high-throughput, quantitative, and comprehensive structure-mapping approach that locates flexible (unpaired) nucleotides within a folded RNA, assaying hundreds of nucleotides at a time. We find that the first 10% of the HIV-1 genome has a single predominant structure and that regulatory motifs have significantly greater structure than do protein-coding segments. The HIV genome interacts with numerous proteins, including multiple copies of the nucleocapsid protein. We directly map RNA–protein interactions inside virions and discover that the nucleocapsid prottein interacts with viral RNA in at least three distinct ways, depending on the context within the overall genome structure. Further application of the high-throughput RNA-structure analysis tools described here will make it possible to address diverse structure–function relationships in intact cellular and viral RNAs.
Development of novel, quantitative, high-throughput RNA structure analysis tools allows the outline of structure-function relationships for the first 10% of an HIV genome, discovery of structural differences between regulatory and coding regions, and analysis of protein-RNA interactions inside authentic virions.
PMCID: PMC2689691  PMID: 18447581

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