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J Mol Biol. 2008 May 9;378(4):943-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.01.078. Epub 2008 Feb 4.

A large collapsed-state RNA can exhibit simple exponential single-molecule dynamics.

Author information

1
Department of Chemistry, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.

Abstract

The process of large RNA folding is believed to proceed from many collapsed structures to a unique functional structure requiring precise organization of nucleotides. The diversity of possible structures and stabilities of large RNAs could result in non-exponential folding kinetics (e.g. stretched exponential) under conditions where the molecules have not achieved their native state. We describe a single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) study of the collapsed-state region of the free energy landscape of the catalytic domain of RNase P RNA from Bacillus stearothermophilus (C(thermo)). Ensemble measurements have shown that this 260 residue RNA folds cooperatively to its native state at >or=1 mM Mg(2+), but little is known about the conformational dynamics at lower ionic strength. Our measurements of equilibrium conformational fluctuations reveal simple exponential kinetics that reflect a small number of discrete states instead of the expected inhomogeneous dynamics. The distribution of discrete dwell times, collected from an "ensemble" of 300 single molecules at each of a series of Mg(2+) concentrations, fit well to a double exponential, which indicates that the RNA conformational changes can be described as a four-state system. This finding is somewhat unexpected under [Mg(2+)] conditions in which this RNA does not achieve its native state. Observation of discrete well-defined conformations in this large RNA that are stable on the seconds timescale at low [Mg(2+)] (<0.1 mM) suggests that even at low ionic strength, with a tremendous number of possible (weak) interactions, a few critical interactions may produce deep energy wells that allow for rapid averaging of motions within each well, and yield kinetics that are relatively simple.

PMID:
18402978
DOI:
10.1016/j.jmb.2008.01.078
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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