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Biochimie. 2004 Feb;86(2):91-104.

Secondary structure of the 3' UTR of bicoid mRNA.

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  • 1UPR 9002 du CNRS, Institut de Biologie Mol├ęculaire et Cellulaire, 15, rue Descartes, 67084 Strasbourg cedex, France.


Formation of the Bicoid morphogen gradient in early Drosophila embryos requires the pre-localization of bicoid mRNA to the anterior pole of the egg. The program of bcd mRNA localization involves multiples steps and proceeds from oogenesis until early embryogenesis. This process requires cis-elements in the 3' UTR of bcd mRNA and successive and/or concomitant critical protein interactions. Furthermore, numerous RNA elements and binding proteins contribute to regulate bcd expression. In the present paper, we investigated the secondary structure of the full length 3' UTR of the bcd mRNA, using a variety of chemical and enzymatic structural probes. This RNA probing analysis allowed us to give a detailed description of the 3' UTR of the bcd mRNA and its organization into five well-defined and independent domains (I-V). One prominent result that emerges from our data is the unexpected high degree of flexibility of the different domains relative to each others. This plasticity relies upon the open conformation of the central hinge region interconnecting domains II, III, and IV + V. Otherwise, dimerization of the 3' UTR, which participates to anchoring bcd mRNA at the anterior pole of the embryo, only results in discrete and local change in domain III. Domain I that contains sites for trans-acting factors exhibiting single stranded RNA binding specificity is mainly unstructured. By contrast, each core domains (II-V) is highly organized and folds into helices interrupted by bulges and interior loops and closed by very exposed apical loops. These elements mostly built specific determinants for trans-acting factors. Besides, these findings provide a valuable database for structure/function studies.

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