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PLoS Comput Biol. 2010 Jun 24;6(6):e1000823. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000823.

TRANSAT-- method for detecting the conserved helices of functional RNA structures, including transient, pseudo-knotted and alternative structures.

Author information

1
Centre for High-Throughput Biology & Department of Computer Science and Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Abstract

The prediction of functional RNA structures has attracted increased interest, as it allows us to study the potential functional roles of many genes. RNA structure prediction methods, however, assume that there is a unique functional RNA structure and also do not predict functional features required for in vivo folding. In order to understand how functional RNA structures form in vivo, we require sophisticated experiments or reliable prediction methods. So far, there exist only a few, experimentally validated transient RNA structures. On the computational side, there exist several computer programs which aim to predict the co-transcriptional folding pathway in vivo, but these make a range of simplifying assumptions and do not capture all features known to influence RNA folding in vivo. We want to investigate if evolutionarily related RNA genes fold in a similar way in vivo. To this end, we have developed a new computational method, Transat, which detects conserved helices of high statistical significance. We introduce the method, present a comprehensive performance evaluation and show that Transat is able to predict the structural features of known reference structures including pseudo-knotted ones as well as those of known alternative structural configurations. Transat can also identify unstructured sub-sequences bound by other molecules and provides evidence for new helices which may define folding pathways, supporting the notion that homologous RNA sequence not only assume a similar reference RNA structure, but also fold similarly. Finally, we show that the structural features predicted by Transat differ from those assuming thermodynamic equilibrium. Unlike the existing methods for predicting folding pathways, our method works in a comparative way. This has the disadvantage of not being able to predict features as function of time, but has the considerable advantage of highlighting conserved features and of not requiring a detailed knowledge of the cellular environment.

PMID:
20589081
PMCID:
PMC2891591
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000823
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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