Send to

Choose Destination
Structure. 1997 May 15;5(5):713-21.

Solution structure of a metal-binding site in the major groove of RNA complexed with cobalt (III) hexammine.

Author information

Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1460, USA.



Solvated metal ions are critical for the proper folding and function of RNA. Despite the importance of these ions, the details of specific metal ion-RNA interactions are poorly understood. The crystal structure of a group I intron ribozyme domain characterized several metal-binding sites in the RNA with osmium (III) hexammine bound in the major groove. A corresponding method for locating and characterizing metal-binding sites of RNA in solution is of obvious interest. NMR should be ideal for localizing metal hexammine ions bound to the RNA because of the large concentration of protons around the metal center.


We have solved the solution structure of the P5b stem loop from a group I intron ribozyme bound to a cobalt (III) hexammine ion. The location of the ion is precisely determined by intermolecular nuclear Overhausser effect cross-peaks between the cobalt (III) hexammine protons and both exchangeable and non-exchangeable RNA protons in the major groove. The binding site consists of tandem G-U base pairs in a sequence of four consecutive G residues ending in a GAAA tetraloop, as originally identified in the crystal structure. The edges of the bases in the major groove present an electrostatically negative face and a variety of hydrogen-bond acceptors for the cobalt (III) hexammine ion. The metal ion ligand is bound near the guanosine nucleotides of the adjacent G-U base pairs, where it makes hydrogen bonds with the N7 and carbonyl groups of both guanines. The carbonyl groups of the uracil residues add to the negative surface of the binding pocket, but do not form hydrogen bonds with the hexammine. Additional hydrogen bonds form with other guanine residues of the GGGG sequence. The structure of the binding site does not change significantly on binding the cobalt (III) hexammine. The structure of the complex in solution is very similar to the structure in the crystal.


The structure presents a picture of how tandem G-U base pairs bind and position metal ions within the RNA major groove. The binding site is performed in the absence of metal ions, and presents a negative pocket in the major groove with a variety of hydrogen-bond acceptors. Because G-U base pairs are such a common motif in RNA sequences, it is possible that this RNA-metal ion interaction is critical in forming large complex RNA structures such as those found in the ribosome and self-splicing introns. This structure was determined using cobalt (III) hexammine as an analog for hexahydrated magnesium, a technique that may be applicable to other RNA sequences. Metal hexammines may prove to be useful general probes for locating RNA metal ion binding sites in solution.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center