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RNA. 2010 Jan;16(1):154-69. doi: 10.1261/rna.1857210. Epub 2009 Nov 25.

Multiple determinants within iron-responsive elements dictate iron regulatory protein binding and regulatory hierarchy.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Iron regulatory proteins (IRPs) are iron-regulated RNA binding proteins that, along with iron-responsive elements (IREs), control the translation of a diverse set of mRNA with 5' IRE. Dysregulation of IRP action causes disease with etiology that may reflect differential control of IRE-containing mRNA. IREs are defined by a conserved stem-loop structure including a midstem bulge at C8 and a terminal CAGUGH sequence that forms an AGU pseudo-triloop and N19 bulge. C8 and the pseudo-triloop nucleotides make the majority of the 22 identified bonds with IRP1. We show that IRP1 binds 5' IREs in a hierarchy extending over a ninefold range of affinities that encompasses changes in IRE binding affinity observed with human L-ferritin IRE mutants. The limits of this IRE binding hierarchy are predicted to arise due to small differences in binding energy (e.g., equivalent to one H-bond). We demonstrate that multiple regions of the IRE stem not predicted to contact IRP1 help establish the binding hierarchy with the sequence and structure of the C8 region displaying a major role. In contrast, base-pairing and stacking in the upper stem region proximal to the terminal loop had a minor role. Unexpectedly, an N20 bulge compensated for the lack of an N19 bulge, suggesting the existence of novel IREs. Taken together, we suggest that a regulatory binding hierarchy is established through the impact of the IRE stem on the strength, not the number, of bonds between C8 or pseudo-triloop nucleotides and IRP1 or through their impact on an induced fit mechanism of binding.

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