"The Ligand-Free State of the TPP Riboswitch: A Partially Folded RNA Structure"

Mona Ali: Jan Lipfert, Soenke Seifert, Daniel Herschlag, Sebastian Doniach; Journal of Molecular Biology, 02/12/10.

Additional Authors: Jan Lipfert, Soenke Seifert, Daniel Herschlag, Sebastian Doniach


Riboswitches are elements of mRNA that regulate gene expression by undergoing structural changes upon binding of small ligands. Although the structures of several riboswitches have been solved with their ligands bound, the ligand-free states of only a few riboswitches have been characterized. The ligand-free state is as important for the functionality of the riboswitch as the ligand-bound form, but the ligand-free state is often a partially folded structure of the RNA, with conformational heterogeneity that makes it particularly challenging to study. Here, we present models of the ligand-free state of a thiamine pyrophosphate riboswitch that are derived from a combination of complementary experimental and computational modeling approaches. We obtain a global picture of the molecule using small-angle X-ray scattering data and use an RNA structure modeling software, MC-Sym, to fit local structural details to these data on an atomic scale. We have used two different approaches to obtaining these models. Our first approach develops a model of the RNA from the structures of its constituent junction fragments in isolation. The second approach treats the RNA as a single entity, without bias from the structure of its individual constituents. We find that both approaches give similar models for the ligand-free form, but the ligand-bound models differ for the two approaches, and only the models from the second approach agree with the ligand-bound structure known previously from X-ray crystallography. Our models provide a picture of the conformational changes that may occur in the riboswitch upon binding of its ligand. Our results also demonstrate the power of combining experimental small-angle X-ray scattering data with theoretical structure prediction tools in the determination of RNA structures beyond riboswitches.