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Biochemistry. 1998 Nov 17;37(46):16116-29.

Equilibrium unfolding (folding) pathway of a model H-type pseudoknotted RNA: the role of magnesium ions in stability.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Center for Macromolecular Design, Texas A&M University, College Station 77843-2128, USA.


In T2 and related T-even bacteriophages, the upstream autoregulatory mRNA leader sequence of gene 32 folds into a simple tertiary structural motif, a hairpin (H)-type pseudoknot. This pseudoknot is derived from 32 contiguous nucleotides which form two coaxially stacked helical stems that adopt a pseudocontinuous A-form helical structure. These stems are connected by two nonequivalent single-stranded loops. The equilibrium unfolding pathway of a 36-nucleotide RNA fragment corresponding to the wild-type and sequence variants of the T2 gene 32 mRNA pseudoknot has been probed as a function of [Mg2+] by analysis of dual optical wavelength, equilibrium thermal melting profiles. A van't Hoff model based on multiple sequential, two-state unfolding transitions has been applied to the resultant data. Compensatory base pair substitutions incorporated into the helical stems have been used to assign optical melting transitions to molecular unfolding events. The optical melting profile of the wild-type RNA is minimally described by three sequential unfolding transitions. The helix-helix junction region melts first in a low-enthalpy transition, followed by the unfolding of the remainder of helical stem 2, and then, all of stem 1. The total enthalpy of unfolding (folding) at [Mg2+] >/= 1 mM is accounted for by the secondary structure alone, suggesting that, if any non-Watson-Crick or tertiary structure exists in this conformation, it makes little or no enthalpic contribution to the stability of the molecule. Consistent with this, the [Mg2+] dependence of individual unfolding transitions within the pseudoknot is well-described by differential extents of delocalized binding of Mg2+ to folded and unfolded regions of the molecule. At a fixed [Mg2+], the helix junction region and stem 2 sequester more Mg2+ ions than the stem 1 hairpin; a larger fraction of these ions are then released upon unfolding. Two base or base pair substitution mutant RNAs which destabilize the helical junction and/or the base of stem 2 appear to sequester fewer ions, with a correspondingly smaller number of these ions released upon unfolding.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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