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RNA. 2001 Nov;7(11):1616-27.

Structural basis of pyrimidine specificity in the MS2 RNA hairpin-coat-protein complex.

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  • 1Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Uppsala University, Sweden.


We have determined the X-ray structures of six MS2 RNA hairpin-coat-protein complexes having five different substitutions at the hairpin loop base -5. This is a uracil in the wild-type hairpin and contacts the coat protein both by stacking on to a tyrosine side chain and by hydrogen bonding to an asparagine side chain. The RNA consensus sequence derived from coat protein binding studies with natural sequence variants suggested that the -5 base needs to be a pyrimidine for strong binding. The five -5 substituents used in this study were 5-bromouracil, pyrimidin-2-one, 2-thiouracil, adenine, and guanine. The structure of the 5-bromouracil complex was determined to 2.2 A resolution, which is the highest to date for any MS2 RNA-protein complex. All the complexes presented here show very similar conformations, despite variation in affinity in solution. The results suggest that the stacking of the -5 base on to the tyrosine side chain is the most important driving force for complex formation. A number of hydrogen bonds that are present in the wild-type complex are not crucial for binding, as they are missing in one or more of the complexes. The results also reveal the flexibility of this RNA-protein interface, with respect to functional group variation, and may be generally applicable to other RNA-protein complexes.

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