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J Mol Biol. 2005 Aug 26;351(4):718-30.

Solution structure of the N-terminal zinc fingers of the Xenopus laevis double-stranded RNA-binding protein ZFa.

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Department of Molecular Biology and Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Several zinc finger proteins have been discovered recently that bind specifically to double-stranded RNA. These include the mammalian JAZ and wig proteins, and the seven-zinc finger protein ZFa from Xenopus laevis. We have determined the solution structure of a 127 residue fragment of ZFa, which consists of two zinc finger domains connected by a linker that remains unstructured in the free protein in solution. The first zinc finger consists of a three-stranded beta-sheet and three helices, while the second finger contains only a two-stranded sheet and two helices. The common structures of the core regions of the two fingers are superimposable. Each finger has a highly electropositive surface that maps to a helix-kink-helix motif. There is no evidence for interactions between the two fingers, consistent with the length (24 residues) and unstructured nature of the intervening linker. Comparison with a number of other proteins shows similarities in the topology and arrangement of secondary structure elements with canonical DNA-binding zinc fingers, with protein interaction motifs such as FOG zinc fingers, and with other DNA-binding and RNA-binding proteins that do not contain zinc. However, in none of these cases does the alignment of these structures with the ZFa zinc fingers produce a consistent picture of a plausible RNA-binding interface. We conclude that the ZFa zinc fingers represent a new motif for the binding of double-stranded RNA.

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