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Chem Biol. 1997 Jun;4(6):453-9.

Rational design of allosteric ribozymes.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 06520-8103, USA.



Efficient operation of cellular processes relies on the strict control that each cell exerts over its metabolic pathways. Some protein enzymes are subject to allosteric regulation, in which binding sites located apart from the enzyme's active site can specifically recognize effector molecules and alter the catalytic rate of the enzyme via conformational changes. Although RNA also performs chemical reactions, no ribozymes are known to operate as true allosteric enzymes in biological systems. It has recently been established that small-molecule receptors can readily be made of RNA, as demonstrated by the in vitro selection of various RNA aptamers that can specifically bind corresponding ligand molecules. We set out to examine whether the catalytic activity of an existing ribozyme could be brought under the control of an effector molecule by designing conjoined aptamer-ribozyme complexes.


By joining an ATP-binding RNA to a self-cleaving ribozyme, we have created the first example of an allosteric ribozyme that has a catalytic rate that can be controlled by ATP. A 180-fold reduction in rate is observed upon addition of either adenosine or ATP, but no inhibition is detected in the presence of dATP or other nucleoside triphosphates. Mutations in the aptamer domain that are expected to eliminate ATP binding or that increase the distance between aptamer and ribozyme domains result in a loss of ATP-specific allosteric control. Using a similar design approach, allosteric hammerhead ribozymes that are activated in the presence of ATP were created and another ribozyme that can be controlled by theophylline was created.


The catalytic features of these conjoined aptamer-ribozyme constructs demonstrate that catalytic RNAs can also be subject to allosteric regulation-a key feature of certain protein enzymes. Moreover, by using simple rational design strategies, it is now possible to engineer new catalytic polynucleotides which have rates that can be tightly and specifically controlled by small effector molecules.

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