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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 21;109(34):13614-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1204620109. Epub 2012 Aug 6.

Quantitation of ten 30S ribosomal assembly intermediates using fluorescence triple correlation spectroscopy.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


The self-assembly of bacterial 30S ribosomes involves a large number of RNA folding and RNA-protein binding steps. The sequence of steps determines the overall assembly mechanism and the structure of the mechanism has ramifications for the robustness of biogenesis and resilience against kinetic traps. Thermodynamic interdependencies of protein binding inferred from omission-reconstitution experiments are thought to preclude certain assembly pathways and thus enforce ordered assembly, but this concept is at odds with kinetic data suggesting a more parallel assembly landscape. A major challenge is deconvolution of the statistical distribution of intermediates that are populated during assembly at high concentrations approaching in vivo assembly conditions. To specifically resolve the intermediates formed by binding of three ribosomal proteins to the full length 16S rRNA, we introduce Fluorescence Triple-Correlation Spectroscopy (F3CS). F3CS identifies specific ternary complexes by detecting coincident fluctuations in three-color fluorescence data. Triple correlation integrals quantify concentrations and diffusion kinetics of triply labeled species, and F3CS data can be fit alongside auto-correlation and cross-correlation data to quantify the populations of 10 specific ribosome assembly intermediates. The distribution of intermediates generated by binding three ribosomal proteins to the entire native 16S rRNA included significant populations of species that were not previously thought to be thermodynamically accessible, questioning the current interpretation of the classic omission-reconstitution experiments. F3CS is a general approach for analyzing assembly and function of macromolecular complexes, especially those too large for traditional biophysical methods.

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