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RNA. 2012 Jan;18(1):88-99. doi: 10.1261/rna.030007.111. Epub 2011 Nov 23.

Structural architecture of an RNA that competitively inhibits RNase L.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado 80045, USA.


Activation of RNase L endonuclease activity is part of the mammalian innate immune response to viral infection. The poliovirus RNA genome contains a sequence in its protein-coding region that can act as a competitive inhibitor of RNase L. Mutation, sequence, and functional analysis of this competitive inhibitor RNA (ciRNA) revealed that its activity depends on specific sequences, showed that a loop-loop hairpin interaction forms in the ciRNA, and suggested the presence of a loop E motif. These features lead to the hypothesis that the ciRNA's function is conferred in part by a specific three-dimensional folded RNA architecture. By using a combination of biophysical, mutational, and functional studies, we have mapped features of the three-dimensional architecture of the ciRNA in its unbound form. We show that the loop-loop interaction forms in the free ciRNA and affects the overall structure, perhaps forming long-range tertiary interactions with the loop E motif. Local tight RNA-RNA backbone packing occurs in parts of the structure, but the fold appears to be less stable than many other tightly packed RNAs. This feature may allow the ciRNA to accommodate the translocation of ribosomes and polymerase across this multifunctional region of the viral RNA but also to function as an RNase L inhibitor.

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