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J Mol Biol. 2003 Apr 4;327(4):781-96.

Recognition of nucleic acid bases and base-pairs by hydrogen bonding to amino acid side-chains.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, 513 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94143-0448, USA.


Sequence-specific protein-nucleic acid recognition is determined, in part, by hydrogen bonding interactions between amino acid side-chains and nucleotide bases. To examine the repertoire of possible interactions, we have calculated geometrically plausible arrangements in which amino acids hydrogen bond to unpaired bases, such as those found in RNA bulges and loops, or to the 53 possible RNA base-pairs. We find 32 possible interactions that involve two or more hydrogen bonds to the six unpaired bases (including protonated A and C), 17 of which have been observed. We find 186 "spanning" interactions to base-pairs in which the amino acid hydrogen bonds to both bases, in principle allowing particular base-pairs to be selectively targeted, and nine of these have been observed. Four calculated interactions span the Watson-Crick pairs and 15 span the G:U wobble pair, including two interesting arrangements with three hydrogen bonds to the Arg guanidinum group that have not yet been observed. The inherent donor-acceptor arrangements of the bases support many possible interactions to Asn (or Gln) and Ser (or Thr or Tyr), few interactions to Asp (or Glu) even though several already have been observed, and interactions to U (or T) only if the base is in an unpaired context, as also observed in several cases. This study highlights how complementary arrangements of donors and acceptors can contribute to base-specific recognition of RNA, predicts interactions not yet observed, and provides tools to analyze proposed contacts or design novel interactions.

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