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Nucleic Acids Res. 2003 Apr 15;31(8):2087-96.

Formation of the P1.1 pseudoknot is critical for both the cleavage activity and substrate specificity of an antigenomic trans-acting hepatitis delta ribozyme.

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RNA Group/Groupe ARN, Département de Biochimie, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec J1H 5N4, Canada.


Hepatitis delta virus RNAs possess self-cleavage activities that produce 2',3'-cyclic phosphate and 5'-hydroxyl termini (i.e. cis-acting delta ribozyme). Trans-acting delta ribozymes have been engineered by removing a junction from the cis version, thereby producing one molecule possessing the substrate sequence and the other the catalytic domain. According to the pseudoknot model, the secondary structure of the delta ribozyme includes a pseudoknot (i.e. P1.1 stem) formed by two base pairs from residues of the L3 loop and J1/4 junction. A collection of 48 P1.1 stem mutants was synthesized in order to provide an original characterization of both the importance and the structure of this pseudoknot in a trans-acting version of the ribozyme. Several structural differences were noted compared to the results reported for cis-acting ribozymes. For example, a combination of two stable Watson-Crick base pairs composing the essential P1.1 stem was demonstrated to be crucial for a significant level of activity, while the cis version required only one base pair. In addition, we present the first physical evidences revealing that the composition of the P1.1 stem affects the substrate specificity for ribozyme cleavage. Depending on the residues forming the J1/4 junction, non-productive ribozyme-substrate complexes can be observed. This phenomenon is proposed to be important for further development of a gene-inactivation system based on delta ribozyme.

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