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Biopolymers. 2004 Jan;73(1):79-89.

Roles of protein subunits in RNA-protein complexes: lessons from ribonuclease P.

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Chemistry Department, University of Michigan, 930 N. University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


Ribonucleoproteins (RNP) are involved in many essential processes in life. However, the roles of RNA and protein subunits in an RNP complex are often hard to dissect. In many RNP complexes, including the ribosome and the Group II introns, one main function of the protein subunits is to facilitate RNA folding. However, in other systems, the protein subunits may perform additional functions, and can affect the biological activities of the RNP complexes. In this review, we use ribonuclease P (RNase P) as an example to illustrate how the protein subunit of this RNP affects different aspects of catalysis. RNase P plays an essential role in the processing of the precursor to transfer RNA (pre-tRNA) and is found in all three domains of life. While every cell has an RNase P (ribonuclease P) enzyme, only the bacterial and some of the archaeal RNase P RNAs (RNA component of RNase P) are active in vitro in the absence of the RNase P protein. RNase P is a remarkable enzyme in the fact that it has a conserved catalytic core composed of RNA around which a diverse array of protein(s) interact to create the RNase P holoenzyme. This combination of highly conserved RNA and altered protein components is a puzzle that allows the dissection of the functional roles of protein subunits in these RNP complexes.

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