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J Mol Biol. 2004 Oct 1;342(5):1359-65.

Reduced contact order and RNA folding rates.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Chicago, 920 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


We investigated the relationship between RNA structure and folding rates accounting for hierarchical structural formation. Folding rates of two-state folding proteins correlate well with relative contact order, a quantitative measure of the number and sequence distance between tertiary contacts. These proteins do not form stable structures prior to the rate-limiting step. In contrast, most secondary structures are stably formed prior to the rate-limiting step in RNA folding. Accordingly, we introduce "reduced contact order", a metric that reflects only the number of residues available to participate in the conformational search after the formation of secondary structure. Plotting the folding rates and the reduced contact order from ten different RNAs suggests that RNA folding can be divided into two classes. To examine this division, folding rates of circularly permutated isomers are compared for two RNAs, one from each class. Folding rates vary by tenfold for circularly permuted Bacillus subtilis RNase P RNA isomers, whereas folding rates vary by only 1.2-fold for circularly permuted catalytic domains. This difference is likely related to the dissimilar natures of their rate-limiting steps.

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