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RNA. 2010 Apr;16(4):762-8. doi: 10.1261/rna.1883810. Epub 2010 Feb 9.

Plasticity of the RNA kink turn structural motif.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8114, USA.


The kink turn (K-turn) is an RNA structural motif found in many biologically significant RNAs. While most examples of the K-turn have a similar fold, the crystal structure of the Azoarcus group I intron revealed a novel RNA conformation, a reverse kink turn bent in the direction opposite that of a consensus K-turn. The reverse K-turn is bent toward the major grooves rather than the minor grooves of the flanking helices, yet the sequence differs from the K-turn consensus by only a single nucleotide. Here we demonstrate that the reverse bend direction is not solely defined by internal sequence elements, but is instead affected by structural elements external to the K-turn. It bends toward the major groove under the direction of a tetraloop-tetraloop receptor. The ability of one sequence to form two distinct structures demonstrates the inherent plasticity of the K-turn sequence. Such plasticity suggests that the K-turn is not a primary element in RNA folding, but instead is shaped by other structural elements within the RNA or ribonucleoprotein assembly.

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