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Curr Biol. 2004 May 4;14(9):787-91.

The RNA-induced silencing complex is a Mg2+-dependent endonuclease.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01605 USA.


In the Drosophila and mammalian RNA interference (RNAi) pathways, target RNA destruction is catalyzed by the siRNA-guided, RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC). RISC has been proposed to be an siRNA-directed endonuclease, catalyzing cleavage of a single phosphodiester bond on the RNA target. Although 5' cleavage products are readily detected for RNAi in vitro, only 3' cleavage products have been observed in vivo. Proof that RISC acts as an endonuclease requires detection of both 5' and 3' cleavage products in a single experimental system. Here, we show that siRNA-programmed RISC generates both 5' and 3' cleavage products in vitro; cleavage requires Mg(2+), but not Ca(2+), and the cleavage product termini suggest a role for Mg(2+) in catalysis. Moreover, a single phosphorothioate in place of the scissile phosphate blocks cleavage; the phosphorothioate effect can be rescued by the thiophilic cation Mn(2+), but not by Ca(2+) or Mg(2+). We propose that during catalysis, a Mg(2+) ion is bound to the RNA substrate through a nonbridging oxygen of the scissile phosphate. The mechanism of endonucleolytic cleavage is not consistent with the mechanisms of the previously identified RISC nuclease, Tudor-SN. Thus, the RISC-component that mediates endonucleolytic cleavage of the target RNA remains to be identified.

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