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J Mol Biol. 1997 Aug 1;270(5):724-38.

The three-dimensional structures of two complexes between recombinant MS2 capsids and RNA operator fragments reveal sequence-specific protein-RNA interactions.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Box 590, S-751 24, Sweden.


Crystal structures of two complexes between recombinant MS2 capsids and RNA operator fragments have been determined at 2.7 A resolution. The coat protein of the RNA bacteriophage MS2 is bifunctional; it forms the icosahedral virus shell to protect the viral nucleic acid and it acts as a translational repressor by binding with high specificity to a unique site on the RNA, a single stem-loop structure, containing the initiation codon of the gene for the viral replicase. In order to determine the structure of these protein-RNA complexes, we have used chemically synthesized variants of the stem-loop fragment and soaked them into crystals of recombinant capsids. The RNA stem-loop, as bound to the protein, forms a crescent-like structure and interacts with the surface of the beta-sheet of a coat protein dimer. It makes protein contacts with seven phosphate groups on the 5' side of the stem-loop, with a pyrimidine base at position -5, which stacks onto a tyrosine, and with two exposed adenine bases, one in the loop and one at a bulge in the stem. Replacement of the wild-type uridine with a cytosine at position -5 increases the affinity of the RNA to the dimer significantly. The complex with RNA stem-loop having cytosine at this position differs from that of the wild-type complex mainly by having one extra intramolecular RNA interaction and one extra water-mediated hydrogen bond.

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