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Biochemistry. 2002 Mar 19;41(11):3667-75.

pK(a) perturbation in genomic Hepatitis Delta Virus ribozyme catalysis evidenced by nucleotide analogue interference mapping.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, 260 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8114, USA.


The Hepatitis Delta Virus (HDV) ribozyme was the first RNA enzyme proposed to use a proton-transfer mechanism for catalysis. Previous biochemical evidence suggested that the genomic HDV ribozyme promotes cis-cleavage using cytosine 75 whose pK(a) is perturbed within the active site. Here we present further biochemical evidence for the involvement of C75 in proton transfer, as well as evidence to support a plausible mechanism for C75 pK(a) perturbation. Nucleotide analogue interference mapping (NAIM) experiments with C analogues having altered N3 pK(a)s demonstrate the importance of C75 ionization in the HDV cis-cleavage reaction. pH-dependent interference rescue with C analogues having enhanced N3 acidity indicates that C75 is the only cytidine residue that must be protonated for ribozyme activity. Furthermore, interference analysis with pseudoisocytidine, a charge-neutral mimic of a C with a protonated N3, shows a pattern consistent with proton transfer, possibly from the C75 N3 to the 5'-oxyanion leaving group during the cis-cleavage reaction. Strong pH-independent inhibition of ribozyme function also occurs at C75 with a C analogue that lacks the N4 amino group, implicating the exocyclic amine in critical interactions in the active site. Interactions with the amino group may play an important role in perturbing the C75 N3 pK(a). Protonation of C41 has been proposed to be important for ribozyme activity; however, no interference at C41 was observed in this analogue series, which argues against a functional role for C41 protonation. These data support a model wherein C75 of the genomic HDV ribozyme acts as a general acid during its cis-cleavage reaction, and provide a glimpse into how RNAs, in a manner similar to protein enzymes, might employ local environmental electronic modulation to catalyze reactions.

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