In eukaryotes, the highly conserved U3 small nucleolar RNA (snoRNA) base-pairs to multiple sites in the pre-ribosomal RNA (pre-rRNA) to promote early cleavage and folding events. Binding of the U3 box A region to the pre-rRNA is mutually exclusive with folding of the central pseudoknot (CPK), a universally conserved rRNA structure of the small ribosomal subunit essential for protein synthesis. Here, we report that the DEAH-box helicase Dhr1 (Ecm16) is responsible for displacing U3. An active site mutant of Dhr1 blocked release of U3 from the pre-ribosome, thereby trapping a pre-40S particle. This particle had not yet achieved its mature structure because it contained U3, pre-rRNA, and a number of early-acting ribosome synthesis factors but noticeably lacked ribosomal proteins (r-proteins) that surround the CPK. Dhr1 was cross-linked in vivo to the pre-rRNA and to U3 sequences flanking regions that base-pair to the pre-rRNA including those that form the CPK. Point mutations in the box A region of U3 suppressed a cold-sensitive mutation of Dhr1, strongly indicating that U3 is an in vivo substrate of Dhr1. To support the conclusions derived from in vivo analysis we showed that Dhr1 unwinds U3-18S duplexes in vitro by using a mechanism reminiscent of DEAD box proteins.
U3 snoRNA binds to pre-rRNA, helping to orchestrate key steps in ribosome assembly. This study identifies Dhr1 as the essential RNA helicase that releases U3 snoRNA and allows ribosome maturation to continue.
Ribosomes are intricate assemblies of RNA and protein that are responsible for decoding a cell’s genetic information. Their assembly is a very rapid and dynamic process, requiring many ancillary factors in eukaryotic cells. One critical factor is the U3 snoRNA, which binds to the immature ribosomal RNA to direct early processing and folding of the RNA of the small subunit. Although U3 is essential to promote assembly, it must be actively removed to allow completion of RNA folding. Such RNA dynamics are often driven by RNA helicases, and here we use a broad range of experimental approaches to identify the RNA helicase Dhr1 as the enzyme responsible for removing U3 in yeast. A combination of techniques allows us to assess what goes wrong when Dhr1 is mutated, which parts of the RNA molecules the enzyme binds to, and how Dhr1 unwinds its substrates.