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J Mol Biol. 2007 Sep 7;372(1):89-102. Epub 2007 Jun 15.

Structural metals in the group I intron: a ribozyme with a multiple metal ion core.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, 260 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06520-8114, USA.


Metal ions play key roles in the folding and function for many structured RNAs, including group I introns. We determined the X-ray crystal structure of the Azoarcus bacterial group I intron in complex with its 5' and 3' exons. In addition to 222 nucleotides of RNA, the model includes 18 Mg(2+) and K(+) ions. Five of the metals bind within 12 A of the scissile phosphate and coordinate the majority of the oxygen atoms biochemically implicated in conserved metal-RNA interactions. The metals are buried deep within the structure and form a multiple metal ion core that is critical to group I intron structure and function. Eight metal ions bind in other conserved regions of the intron structure, and the remaining five interact with peripheral structural elements. Each of the 18 metals mediates tertiary interactions, facilitates local bends in the sugar-phosphate backbone or binds in the major groove of helices. The group I intron has a rich history of biochemical efforts aimed to identify RNA-metal ion interactions. The structural data are correlated to the biochemical results to further understand the role of metal ions in group I intron structure and function.

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