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Nucleic Acids Res. Nov 15, 1999; 27(22): 4353–4362.
PMCID: PMC148716

Characterization of transient RNA-RNA interactions important for the facilitated structure formation of bacterial ribosomal 16S RNA.


The co-transcribed leader sequences of bacterial rRNA are known to affect the structure and function of the small ribosomal subunits. Base changes in the leader nut -like sequence elements have been shown to cause misfolded but correctly processed 16S rRNA structures at low growth temperature. Transient interactions of leader sequences with the nascent 16S rRNA are considered to guide rRNA folding and to facilitate correct structure formation. In order to understand this chaperone-like activity of the leader RNA we have analyzed the thermodynamic stabilities of wild-type and mutant leader transcripts. We show here that base changes cause subtle differences in the melting profiles of the corresponding leader transcripts. Furthermore, we show that direct interaction between leader transcripts and the 16S rRNA is limited to the 5'-domain of the 16S rRNA for both wild-type and mutant leaders. Binding studies of mutant and wild-type leader transcripts to 16S rRNA revealed small changes in the affinities and the thermal stabilities as a consequence of the base changes. Different complex stabilities as a function of the Mg(2+) ion concentration indicated that mutant and wild-type leader transcripts interact differently with the 16S rRNA, consistent with a less stable and tightly folded structure of the mutant leader. Employing time-resolved oligonucleotide hybridization assays we could show different folding kinetics for 16S rRNA molecules when linked to wild-type leader, mutant leader or in the absence of leader RNA. The studies help to understand how bacterial rRNA leader transcripts may affect the folding of the small subunit rRNA.

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