"Dissecting electrostatic screening, specific ion binding, and ligand binding in an energetic model for glycine riboswitch folding "

Jan Lipfert: Adelene Y.L. Sim, Daniel Herschlag and Sebastian Doniach; RNA, 04/01/10.

Additional Authors: Adelene Y.L. Sim, Daniel Herschlag and Sebastian Doniach


Riboswitches are gene-regulating RNAs that are usually found in the 5′-untranslated regions of messenger RNA. As the sugar-phosphate backbone of RNA is highly negatively charged, the folding and ligand-binding interactions of riboswitches are strongly dependent on the presence of cations. Using small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and hydroxyl radical footprinting, we examined the cation dependence of the different folding stages of the glycine-binding riboswitch from Vibrio cholerae. We found that the partial folding of the tandem aptamer of this riboswitch in the absence of glycine is supported by all tested mono- and divalent ions, suggesting that this transition is mediated by nonspecific electrostatic screening. Poisson–Boltzmann calculations using SAXS-derived low-resolution structural models allowed us to perform an energetic dissection of this process. The results showed that a model with a constant favorable contribution to folding that is opposed by an unfavorable electrostatic term that varies with ion concentration and valency provides a reasonable quantitative description of the observed folding behavior. Glycine binding, on the other hand, requires specific divalent ions binding based on the observation that Mg2+, Ca2+, and Mn2+ facilitated glycine binding, whereas other divalent cations did not. The results provide a case study of how ion-dependent electrostatic relaxation, specific ion binding, and ligand binding can be coupled to shape the energetic landscape of a riboswitch and can begin to be quantitatively dissected.