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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Jun 25;99(13):8518-23.

The rate-limiting step in the folding of a large ribozyme without kinetic traps.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


A fundamental question in RNA folding is the nature of the rate-limiting step. Folding of large RNAs often is trapped by the need to undo misfolded structures, which precludes the study of the other, potentially more interesting aspects in the rate-limiting step, such as conformational search, metal ion binding, and the role of productive intermediates. The catalytic domain of the Bacillus subtilis RNase P RNA folds without a kinetic trap, thereby providing an ideal system to elucidate these steps. We analyzed the folding kinetics by using fluorescence and absorbance spectroscopies, catalytic activity, and synchrotron small-angle x-ray scattering. Folding begins with the rapid formation of early intermediates wherein the majority of conformational search occurs, followed by the slower formation of subsequent intermediates. Before the rate-limiting step, more than 98% of the total structure has formed. The rate-limiting step is a small-scale structural rearrangement involving prebound metal ions.

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