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RNA. 2010 Mar;16(3):638-46. doi: 10.1261/rna.1946310. Epub 2010 Jan 27.

Improving small-angle X-ray scattering data for structural analyses of the RNA world.

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Life Science Division, Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Defining the shape, conformation, or assembly state of an RNA in solution often requires multiple investigative tools ranging from nucleotide analog interference mapping to X-ray crystallography. A key addition to this toolbox is small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). SAXS provides direct structural information regarding the size, shape, and flexibility of the particle in solution and has proven powerful for analyses of RNA structures with minimal requirements for sample concentration and volumes. In principle, SAXS can provide reliable data on small and large RNA molecules. In practice, SAXS investigations of RNA samples can show inconsistencies that suggest limitations in the SAXS experimental analyses or problems with the samples. Here, we show through investigations on the SAM-I riboswitch, the Group I intron P4-P6 domain, 30S ribosomal subunit from Sulfolobus solfataricus (30S), brome mosaic virus tRNA-like structure (BMV TLS), Thermotoga maritima asd lysine riboswitch, the recombinant tRNA(val), and yeast tRNA(phe) that many problems with SAXS experiments on RNA samples derive from heterogeneity of the folded RNA. Furthermore, we propose and test a general approach to reducing these sample limitations for accurate SAXS analyses of RNA. Together our method and results show that SAXS with synchrotron radiation has great potential to provide accurate RNA shapes, conformations, and assembly states in solution that inform RNA biological functions in fundamental ways.

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