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Nucleic Acids Res. 2001 Aug 15;29(16):3394-403.

Effects of base change mutations within an Escherichia coli ribosomal RNA leader region on rRNA maturation and ribosome formation.

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  • 1Institut für Physikalische Biologie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Universitätsstrasse 1, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.


The effects of base change mutations in a highly conserved sequence (boxC) within the leader of bacterial ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) was studied. The boxC sequence preceding the 16S rRNA structural gene constitutes part of the RNase III processing site, one of the first cleavage sites on the pathway to mature 16S rRNA. Moreover, rRNA leader sequences facilitate correct 16S rRNA folding, thereby assisting ribosomal subunit formation. Mutations in boxC cause cold sensitivity and result in 16S rRNA and 30S subunit deficiency. Strains in which all rRNA operons are replaced by mutant transcription units are viable. Thermodynamic studies by temperature gradient gel electrophoresis reveal that mutant transcripts have a different, less ordered structure. In addition, RNA secondary structure differences between mutant and wild-type transcripts were determined by chemical and enzymatic probing. Differences are found in the leader RNA sequence itself but also in structurally important regions of the mature 16S rRNA. A minor fraction of the rRNA transcripts from mutant operons is not processed by RNase III, resulting in a significantly extended precursor half-life compared to the wild-type. The boxC mutations also give rise to a new aberrant degradation product of 16S rRNA. This intermediate cannot be detected in strains lacking RNase III. Together the results indicate that the boxC sequence, although important for RNase III processing, is likely to serve additional functions by facilitating correct formation of the mature 16S rRNA structure. They also suggest that quality control steps are acting during ribosome biogenesis.

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