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1.  Disruptive mRNA folding increases translational efficiency of catechol-O-methyltransferase variant 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(14):6201-6212.
Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is a major enzyme controlling catecholamine levels that plays a central role in cognition, affective mood and pain perception. There are three common COMT haplotypes in the human population reported to have functional effects, divergent in two synonymous and one nonsynonymous position. We demonstrate that one of the haplotypes, carrying the non-synonymous variation known to code for a less stable protein, exhibits increased protein expression in vitro. This increased protein expression, which would compensate for lower protein stability, is solely produced by a synonymous variation (C166T) situated within the haplotype and located in the 5′ region of the RNA transcript. Based on mRNA secondary structure predictions, we suggest that structural destabilization near the start codon caused by the T allele could be related to the observed increase in COMT expression. Our folding simulations of the tertiary mRNA structures demonstrate that destabilization by the T allele lowers the folding transition barrier, thus decreasing the probability of occupying its native state. These data suggest a novel structural mechanism whereby functional synonymous variations near the translation initiation codon affect the translation efficiency via entropy-driven changes in mRNA dynamics and present another example of stable compensatory genetic variations in the human population.
PMCID: PMC3152328  PMID: 21486747
2.  Structural basis for the sequence-dependent effects of platinum–DNA adducts 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(8):2434-2448.
The differences in efficacy and molecular mechanisms of platinum based anti-cancer drugs cisplatin (CP) and oxaliplatin (OX) have been hypothesized to be in part due to the differential binding affinity of cellular and damage recognition proteins to CP and OX adducts formed on adjacent guanines in genomic DNA. HMGB1a in particular exhibits higher binding affinity to CP-GG adducts, and the extent of discrimination between CP- and OX-GG adducts is dependent on the bases flanking the adducts. However, the structural basis for this differential binding is not known. Here, we show that the conformational dynamics of CP- and OX-GG adducts are distinct and depend on the sequence context of the adduct. Molecular dynamics simulations of the Pt-GG adducts in the TGGA sequence context revealed that even though the major conformations of CP- and OX-GG adducts were similar, the minor conformations were distinct. Using the pattern of hydrogen bond formation between the Pt–ammines and the adjacent DNA bases, we identified the major and minor conformations sampled by Pt–DNA. We found that the minor conformations sampled exclusively by the CP-GG adduct exhibit structural properties that favor binding by HMGB1a, which may explain its higher binding affinity to CP-GG adducts, while these conformations are not sampled by OX-GG adducts because of the constraints imposed by its cyclohexane ring, which may explain the negligible binding affinity of HMGB1a for OX-GG adducts in the TGGA sequence context. Based on these results, we postulate that the constraints imposed by the cyclohexane ring of OX affect the DNA conformations explored by OX-GG adduct compared to those of CP-GG adduct, which may influence the binding affinities of HMG-domain proteins for Pt-GG adducts, and that these conformations are further influenced by the DNA sequence context of the Pt-GG adduct.
PMCID: PMC2677858  PMID: 19255091

Results 1-2 (2)