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J Mol Biol. 2000 Apr 7;297(4):895-906.

Archaeal homologs of eukaryotic methylation guide small nucleolar RNAs: lessons from the Pyrococcus genomes.

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Laboratoire de Biométrie et Intelligence Artificielle, INRA, Castanet-Tolosan, 31326, France.

Erratum in

  • J Mol Biol 2000 Jul 21;300(4):1017-8.


Ribose methylation is a prevalent type of nucleotide modification in rRNA. Eukaryotic rRNAs display a complex pattern of ribose methylations, amounting to 55 in yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and about 100 in vertebrates. Ribose methylations of eukaryotic rRNAs are each guided by a cognate small RNA, belonging to the family of box C/D antisense snoRNAs, through transient formation of a specific base-pairing at the rRNA modification site. In prokaryotes, the pattern of rRNA ribose methylations has been fully characterized in a single species so far, Escherichia coli, which contains only four ribose methylated rRNA nucleotides. However, the hyperthermophile archaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus contains, like eukaryotes, a large number of (yet unmapped) rRNA ribose methylations and homologs of eukaryotic box C/D small nucleolar ribonuclear proteins have been identified in archaeal genomes. We have therefore searched archaeal genomes for potential homologs of eukaryotic methylation guide small nucleolar RNAs, by combining searches for structured motifs with homology searches. We have identified a family of 46 small RNAs, conserved in the genomes of three hyperthermophile Pyrococcus species, which we have experimentally characterized in Pyrococcus abyssi. The Pyrococcus small RNAs, the first reported homologs of methylation guide small nucleolar RNAs in organisms devoid of a nucleus, appear as a paradigm of minimalist box C/D antisense RNAs. They differ from their eukaryotic homologs by their outstanding structural homogeneity, extended consensus box motifs and the quasi-systematic presence of two (instead of one) rRNA antisense elements. Remarkably, for each small RNA the two antisense elements always match rRNA sequences close to each other in rRNA structure, suggesting an important role in rRNA folding. Only a few of the predicted P. abyssi rRNA ribose methylations have been detected so far. Further analysis of these archaeal small RNAs could provide new insights into the origin and functions of methylation guide small nucleolar RNAs and illuminate the still elusive role of rRNA ribose methylations.

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