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RNA. 2012 Feb;18(2):213-21. doi: 10.1261/rna.029983.111. Epub 2011 Dec 19.

Adaptation to tRNA acceptor stem structure by flexible adjustment in the catalytic domain of class I tRNA synthetases.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.


Class I aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs) use a Rossmann-fold domain to catalyze the synthesis of aminoacyl-tRNAs required for decoding genetic information. While the Rossmann-fold domain is conserved in evolution, the acceptor stem near the aminoacylation site varies among tRNA substrates, raising the question of how the conserved protein fold adapts to RNA sequence variations. Of interest is the existence of an unpaired C-A mismatch at the 1-72 position unique to bacterial initiator tRNA(fMet) and absent from elongator tRNAs. Here we show that the class I methionyl-tRNA synthetase (MetRS) of Escherichia coli and its close structural homolog cysteinyl-tRNA synthetase (CysRS) display distinct patterns of recognition of the 1-72 base pair. While the structural homology of the two enzymes in the Rossmann-fold domain is manifested in a common burst feature of aminoacylation kinetics, CysRS discriminates against unpaired 1-72, whereas MetRS lacks such discrimination. A structure-based alignment of the Rossmann fold identifies the insertion of an α-helical motif, specific to CysRS but absent from MetRS, which docks on 1-72 and may discriminate against mismatches. Indeed, substitutions of the CysRS helical motif abolish the discrimination against unpaired 1-72. Additional structural alignments reveal that with the exception of MetRS, class I tRNA synthetases contain a structural motif that docks on 1-72. This work demonstrates that by flexible insertion of a structural motif to dock on 1-72, the catalytic domain of class I tRNA synthetases can acquire structural plasticity to adapt to changes at the end of the tRNA acceptor stem.

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