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Biochemistry. 2003 Aug 19;42(32):9554-63.

Crystal structure of the leadzyme at 1.8 A resolution: metal ion binding and the implications for catalytic mechanism and allo site ion regulation.

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Department of Structural Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


The leadzyme is a small ribozyme, derived from in vitro selection, which catalyzes site specific, Pb(2+)-dependent RNA cleavage. Pb(2+) is required for activity; Mg(2+) inhibits activity, while many divalent and trivalent ions enhance it. The leadzyme structure consists of an RNA duplex interrupted by a trinucleotide bulge. Here, crystal structures determined to 1.8 A resolution, both with Mg(2+) as the sole divalent counterion and with Mg(2+) and Sr(2+) (which mimics Pb(2+) with respect to binding but not catalysis), reveal the metal ion interactions with both the ground state and precatalytic conformations of the leadzyme. Mg(H(2)O)(6)(2+) ions bridge complementary strands of the duplex at multiple locations by binding tandem purines of one RNA strand in the major groove. At one site, Mg(H(2)O)(6)(2+) ligates the phosphodiester backbone of the trinucleotide bulge in the ground state conformation, but not in the precatalytic conformation, suggesting (a) Mg(2+) may inhibit leadzyme activity by stabilizing the ground state and (b) metal ions which displace Mg(2+) from this site may activate the leadzyme. Binding of Sr(2+) to the presumed catalytic Pb(2+) site in the precatalytic leadzyme induces local structural changes in a manner that would facilitate alignment of the catalytic ribose 2'-hydroxyl with the scissile bond for cleavage. These data support a model wherein binding of a catalytic ion to a precatalytic conformation of the leadzyme, in conjunction with the flexibility of the trinucleotide bulge, may facilitate structural rearrangements around the scissle phosphodiester bond favoring configurations that allow bond cleavage.

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