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EMBO J. 1993 Oct;12(10):3987-96.

Formation of the central pseudoknot in 16S rRNA is essential for initiation of translation.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Gorlaeus Laboratories, University of Leiden, The Netherlands.


The postulated central pseudoknot formed by regions 9-13/21-25 and 17-19/916-918 of 16S rRNA of Escherichia coli is phylogenetically conserved in prokaryotic as well eukaryotic species. This pseudoknot is located at the center of the secondary structure of the 16S rRNA and connects the three major domains of this molecule. We have introduced mutations into this pseudoknot by changing the base-paired residues C18 and G917, and the effect of such mutations on the ribosomal activity was studied in vivo, using a 'specialized' ribosome system. As compared with ribosomes having the wild-type pseudoknot, the translational activity of ribosomes containing an A, G or U residue at position 18 was dramatically reduced, while the activity of mutant ribosomes having complementary bases at positions 18 and 917 was at the wild-type level. The reduced translational activity of those mutants that are incapable of forming a pseudoknot was caused by their inability to form 70S ribosomal complexes. These results demonstrate that the potential formation of a central pseudoknot in 16S rRNA with any base-paired residues at positions 18 and 917 is essential to complete the initiation process.

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