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RNA. 1996 Aug;2(8):769-84.

A misfolded form of 5S rRNA is complexed with the Ro and La autoantigens.

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Department of Cell Biology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.


In both vertebrate and invertebrate cells, the 60-kDa Ro autoantigen is bound to small cytoplasmic RNAs known as Y RNAs. In Xenopus oocytes, the 60-kDa Ro protein is also complexed with a class of 5S rRNA precursors that contain internal mutations. Because these 5S rRNA precursors are processed inefficiently and degraded eventually, the Ro protein may function in a quality control pathway for 5S rRNA biosynthesis. We have investigated the sequence and secondary structure determinants in the mutant 5S rRNAs that confer binding by the 60-kDa Ro protein. The mutant 5S rRNAs fold to form an alternative helix that is required for recognition by the 60-kDa Ro protein. Mutations that disrupt the alternative helix eliminate Ro protein binding, whereas compensatory changes that restore the helix are bound efficiently by the Ro protein. When the structure of the mutant RNA was probed using dimethylsulfate and oligonucleotide-directed RNase H cleavage, the results were consistent with the formation of the alternative structure. The La protein, which is also complexed with the mutant 5S rRNA precursors, protects similar sequences from nuclease digestion as does the 60-kDa Ro protein. Thus, the binding sites for these two proteins are either nearby on the RNA, or the two proteins may be complexed through protein-protein interactions. When the human Ro protein is expressed in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the protein binds wild-type 5S rRNA precursors, suggesting that a population of wild-type precursors also folds into the alternative structure.

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