Single-molecule chemical denaturation of riboswitches

Paul Allan Dalgarno, J Bordello, Rhodri Morris, P St-Pierre, A. Dubé, Ifor David William Samuel, Daniel Lafontaine, Carlos Penedo

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29 Citations (Scopus)
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To date, single-molecule RNA science has been developed almost exclusively around the effect of metal ions as folding promoters and stabilizers of the RNA structure. Here, we introduce a novel strategy that combines single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) and chemical denaturation to observe and manipulate RNA dynamics. We demonstrate that the competing interplay between metal ions and denaturant agents provides a platform to extract information that otherwise will remain hidden with current methods. Using the adenine-sensing riboswitch aptamer as a model, we provide strong evidence for a rate-limiting folding step of the aptamer domain being modulated through ligand binding, a feature that is important for regulation of the controlled gene. In the absence of ligand, the rate-determining step is dominated by the formation of long-range key tertiary contacts between peripheral stem-loop elements. In contrast, when the adenine ligand interacts with partially folded messenger RNAs, the aptamer requires specifically bound Mg2+ ions, as those observed in the crystal structure, to progress further towards the native form. Moreover, despite that the ligand-free and ligand-bound states are indistinguishable by FRET, their different stability against urea-induced denaturation allowed us to discriminate them, even when they coexist within a single FRET trajectory; a feature not accessible by existing methods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4253-4265
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number7
Early online date27 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


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