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Chromosoma. 1997 Jun;105(7-8):391-400.

Eukaryotic ribosomal RNA: the recent excitement in the nucleotide modification problem.

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School of Biological Sciences, Life Sciences Building, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK.


Eukaryotic ribosomal RNA (rRNA) contains numerous modified nucleotides: about 115 methyl groups and some 95 pseudouridines in vertebrates; about 65 methyl groups and some 45 pseudouridines in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. All but about ten of the methyl groups are ribose methylations. The remaining ten are on heterocyclic bases. The ribose methylations occur very rapidly upon the primary rRNA transcript in the nucleolus, probably on nascent chains, and they appear to play an important role in ribosome maturation, at least in vertebrates. All of the methyl groups occur in the conserved core of rRNA. However, there is no consensus feature of sequence or secondary structure for the methylation sites; thus the nature of the signal(s) for site-specific methylations had until recently remained a mystery. The situation changed dramatically with the discovery that many of the ribose methylation sites are in regions that are precisely complementary to small nucleolar RNA (snoRNA) species. Experimental evidence indicates that structural motifs within the snoRNA species do indeed pinpoint the precise nucleotides to be methylated by the putative 2'-O-methyl transferase(s). Regarding base methylations, the gene DIM1, responsible for modification of the conserved dimethyladenosines near the 3' end of 18S rRNA, has been shown to be essential for viability in S. cerevisiae and is suggested to play a role in the nucleocytoplasmic transport of the small ribosomal subunit. Recently nearly all of the pseudouridines have also been mapped in the rRNA of several eukaryotic species. As is the case for ribose methylations, most pseudouridine modifications occur rapidly upon precursor rRNA, within core sequences, and in a variety of local primary and secondary structure environments. In contrast to ribose methylation, no potentially unifying process has yet been identified for the enzymic recognition of the many pseudouridine modification sites. However, the new data afford the basis for a search for any potential involvement of snoRNAs in the recognition process.

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