Structural and Conformational Feature of RNA Duplexes
Senthil Kuma, DK
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In recent years, several interesting biological roles played by RNA have come to light. Apart from their known role in translation of genetic information from DNA to protein, they have been shown to act as enzymes as well as regulators of gene expression. Protein-RNA complexes are involved in regulating cellular processes like cell division, differentiation, growth, cell aging and death. A number of clinically important viruses have RNA as their genetic material. Defective RNA molecules have been linked to a number of human diseases. The ability of RNA to adopt stunningly complex three-dimensional structures aids in diverse functions like catalysis, metabolite sensing and transcriptional control. Several secondary structure motifs are observed in RNA, of which the double-helical RNA motif is ubiquitous and well characterized. Though DNA duplexes have been shown to be present in many polymorphic states, RNA duplexes are believed to exhibit conservatism. Early fibre diffraction analysis on molecular structures of natural and synthetically available oligo- and polynucleotides suggested that the double-helical structures of RNA might exist in two forms: A-form and A′-form. New improved crystallographic methods have contributed to the increased availability of atomic resolution structures of many biologically significant RNA molecules. With the available structural information, it is feasible to try and understand the contribution of the variations at the base pair, base-pair step and backbone torsion angle level to the overall structure of the RNA duplex. Further, the effect of protein binding on RNA structure has not been extensively analysed. These studies have not been investigated in greater detail due to the focus of the research community on understanding conformational changes in proteins when bound to RNA, and due to the lack of a significant number of solved RNA structures in both free and protein-bound state. While studies on the conformation of the DNA double-helical stem have moved beyond the dinucleotide step into tri-, tetra-, hexa- and octanucleotide levels, similar knowledge for RNA even at the dinucleotide step level is lacking. In this thesis, the results of detailed analyses to understand the contribution of the base sequence towards RNA conformational variability as well as the structural changes incurred upon protein binding are reported. Objectives The primary objective of this thesis is to understand the following through detailed analyses of all available high-resolution crystal structures of RNA. 1 Exploring sequence-dependent variations exhibited by dinucleotide steps formed by Watson-Crick (WC) base pairs in RNA duplexes. 2 Identifying sequence-dependent variations exhibited by dinucleotide steps containing non-Watson-Crick (NWC) base pairs in RNA duplexes. 3 Developing a web application for the generation of sequence-dependent non-uniform nucleic acid structures. 4 Investigating the relationship between base sequence and backbone torsion-angle preferences in RNA double helices followed by molecular dynamics simulation using various force fields, to check their ability to reproduce the above experimental findings. Chapter 1 gives an overview of the structural features and polymorphic states of RNA duplexes and the present understanding of the structural architecture of RNA, thereby laying the background to the studies carried out subsequently. The chapter also gives a brief description on the methodologies applied. Relevant methodologies and protocols are dealt with in detail in the respective chapters. Sequence-dependent base-pair step geometries in RNA duplexes A complete understanding of the conformational variability seen in duplex RNA molecules at the dinucleotide step level can aid in the understanding of their function. This work was carried out to derive geometric information using a non-redundant RNA crystal structure dataset and to understand the conformational features (base pair and base-pair step parameters) involving all Watson-Crick (WC) (Chapter 2) and non-Watson-Crick (NWC) base pairs (Chapter 3). The sequence-dependent variations exhibited by the base-pair steps in RNA duplexes are elaborated. Further, potential non-canonical hydrogen bond interactions in the steps are identified and their relationship with dinucleotide step geometry is discussed. Comparison of the features of dinucleotide steps between free and protein-bound RNA datasets suggest variations at the base-pair step level on protein binding, which are more pronounced in non-Watson-Crick base pair containing steps. Chapter 4 describes a web-server NUCGEN-Plus, developed for building and regeneration of curved and non-uniform DNA and RNA duplexes. The main algorithm is a modification of our earlier program NUCGEN that worked mainly for DNA. The WC step parameters and intra-base parameters for RNA were obtained from the work detailed in Chapter 2. The FORTRAN code and input sequence file format was modified. The program has two modules: a) Using the model-building module, the program can build duplex structures for a given input DNA/RNA sequence. Options are available for selecting various derived or user specified base-pair step parameters, and fibre diffraction parameters that can be used in the building process. The program can generate double-helical structures up to 2000 nucleotides in length. In addition, the program can calculate the curvature of the generated duplex at defined length scale. b) Using the regeneration module, double-helical structures of nucleic acids can be rebuilt from the existing solved structures. Further, variants of an existing structure can be generated by varying the input geometric parameters. The web-server has a user-friendly interface and is freely available in the public domain at: http://nucleix.mbu.iisc.ernet.in/nucgenplus/index.html Sequence dependence of backbone torsion angle conformers in RNA duplexes RNA molecules consist of covalently linked nucleotide units. Each of these units has six rigid torsional degrees of freedom (α, β, γ, δ, ε, and ζ) for the backbone and one (χ) around the glycosidic bond connecting the base to the ribose, thereby providing conformational flexibility. An understanding of the relationship between base sequence and structural variations along the backbone can help deduce the rationale for sequence conservation and also their functional importance. Chapter 5 describes in detail the torsion angle-dependent variations seen in dinucleotide steps of RNA duplex. A non-redundant, high resolution (≤2.5Å) crystal structure dataset was created. Base-specific preferences for the backbone and glycosidic torsion angles were observed. Non-A-form torsion angle conformers were found to have a greater prevalence in protein-bound duplexes. Further validation of the above observation was performed by analysing the RNA backbone conformers and the effect of protein binding, in the crystal structure of E. coli 70S ribosome. Chapter 5 further describes the molecular dynamics simulation studies carried out to understand the effect of force fields on the RNA backbone conformer preferences. A 33mer long duplex was simulated using seven different force fields available in AMBER and CHARMM program, each for 100 ns. Trajectory analyses suggest the presence of sequence-dependent torsion angle preferences. Torsion angle conformer distribution closer to that of crystal structures was observed in the system simulated using parmbsc0 force field. Molecular dynamics simulation studies of AU/AU base-pair step A unique geometric feature, unlike that in other purine-pyrimidine (RY) steps in the crystal dataset analysis, was reported for AU/AU step (see Chapter 2). Appendix 1 describes the work carried out to validate these features observed in the crystal structures using simulation studies. Additionally, the effect of nearest-neighbor base pairs on the AU/AU step geometry were examined. General Conclusion Overall, the findings of this thesis work suggest that RNA duplexes exhibit sequence-dependent structural variations and sample a large volume of the double-helical conformational space. Further, protein binding affects the local base-pair step geometry and backbone conformation.