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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Sep-Oct;1789(9-10):571-83. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagrm.2009.05.005. Epub 2009 Jun 6.

RNA conformational changes in the life cycles of RNA viruses, viroids, and virus-associated RNAs.

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Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


The rugged nature of the RNA structural free energy landscape allows cellular RNAs to respond to environmental conditions or fluctuating levels of effector molecules by undergoing dynamic conformational changes that switch on or off activities such as catalysis, transcription or translation. Infectious RNAs must also temporally control incompatible activities and rapidly complete their life cycle before being targeted by cellular defenses. Viral genomic RNAs must switch between translation and replication, and untranslated subviral RNAs must control other activities such as RNA editing or self-cleavage. Unlike well characterized riboswitches in cellular RNAs, the control of infectious RNA activities by altering the configuration of functional RNA domains has only recently been recognized. In this review, we will present some of these molecular rearrangements found in RNA viruses, viroids and virus-associated RNAs, relating how these dynamic regions were discovered, the activities that might be regulated, and what factors or conditions might cause a switch between conformations.

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