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Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Sep;28(9):2629-36. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr090. Epub 2011 Apr 5.

Defining 5S rRNA structure space: point mutation data can be used to predict the phenotype of multichange variants.

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Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, USA.


A portion of the 5S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) structure space in the vicinity of the Vibrio proteolyticus 5S rRNA sequence is explored in detail with the intention of establishing principles that will allow a priori prediction of which sequences would be valid members of a particular RNA structure space. Four hundred and one sequence variants differing from the V. proteolyticus 5S rRNA wild-type sequence in 1-7 positions were characterized using an in vivo assay system. Most significantly, it was found that in general, the phenotypic effects of single changes were independent of the phenotypic effect of a second change. As a result, it was possible to use the new data in conjunction with results from prior studies of the same RNA to develop "truth tables" to predict which multiple change variants would be functional and which would be nonfunctional. The actual phenotype of 93.8% of the multichange variants studied was consistent with the predictions made using truth tables thereby providing for perhaps the first time an upper limit estimate of how frequent unexpected interactions are. It was also observed that single changes at positions involved in secondary structure were no more likely to be invalid than changes in other regions. In particular, internal changes in long standard stems were in fact almost always tolerated. Changes at positions that were hypervariable in the context of an alignment of related sequences were, as expected, usually found to be valid. However, the potential validity of changes that were idiosyncratic to a single lineage of related sequences when placed in the V. proteolyticus 5S rRNA context was unpredictable.

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