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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jan 10;103(2):253-7. Epub 2005 Dec 28.

The up-regulation of ferritin expression using a small-molecule ligand to the native mRNA.

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Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3290, USA.


The binding of small molecules to distinctive three-dimensional structures in mRNA provides a new dimension in RNA control, previously limited to the targeting of secondary structures with antisense and RNA interference; such targeting can modulate mRNA function and rates of protein biosynthesis. Small molecules that selectively bind the iron-responsive element (IRE), a specific three-dimensional structure in the noncoding region of the ferritin mRNA model that is recognized by the iron-regulatory protein repressor, were identified by using chemical footprinting. The assay used involved an oxoruthenium(IV) complex that oxidizes guanine bases in RNA sequences. Small molecules that blocked oxidation of guanines in the internal loop region were expected to selectively increase the rate of ferritin synthesis, because the internal loop region of the ferritin IRE is distinctive from those of other IREs. The natural product yohimbine was found (based on gel mobility shifts) to block cleavage of the internal loop RNA site by >50% and seemed to inhibit protein binding. In the presence of yohimbine, the rate of biosynthesis of ferritin in a cell-free expression system (rabbit reticulocyte lysate) increased by 40%. Assignment of the IRE-yohimbine interaction as the origin of this effect was supported by a similar increase in synthesis of luciferase protein in a chimera of the IRE and luciferase gene. The identification of a small, drug-like molecule that recognizes a naturally occurring three-dimensional mRNA structure and regulates protein biosynthesis rates raises the possibility that small molecules can regulate protein biosynthesis by selectively binding to mRNA.

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