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IUBMB Life. 2000 May;49(5):341-51.

Pseudouridine in RNA: what, where, how, and why.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Pseudouridine (5-ribosyluracil) is a ubiquitous yet enigmatic constituent of structural RNAs (transfer, ribosomal, small nuclear, and small nucleolar). Although pseudouridine (psi) was the first modified nucleoside to be discovered in RNA, and is the most abundant, its biosynthesis and biological roles have remained poorly understood since its identification as a "fifth nucleoside" in RNA. Recently, a combination of biochemical, biophysical, and genetic approaches has helped to illuminate the structural consequences of psi in polyribonucleotides, the biochemical mechanism of U-->psi isomerization in RNA, and the role of modification enzymes (psi synthases) and box H/ACA snoRNAs, a class of eukaryotic small nucleolar RNAs, in the site-specific biosynthesis of psi. Through its unique ability to coordinate a structural water molecule via its free N1-H, psi exerts a subtle but significant "rigidifying" influence on the nearby sugar-phosphate backbone and also enhances base stacking. These effects may underlie the biological role of most (but perhaps not all) of the psi residues in RNA. Certain genetic mutants lacking specific psi residues in tRNA or rRNA exhibit difficulties in translation, display slow growth rates, and fail to compete effectively with wild-type strains in mixed culture. In particular, normal growth is severely compromised in an Escherichia coli mutant deficient in a pseudouridine synthase responsible for the formation of three closely spaced psi residues in the mRNA decoding region of the 23S rRNA. Such studies demonstrate that pseudouridylation of RNA confers an important selective advantage in a natural biological context.

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