Effects of magnesium ions on the stabilization of RNA oligomers of defined structures.
Optical melting was used to determine the stabilities of 11 small RNA oligomers of defined secondary structure as a function of magnesium ion concentration. The oligomers included helices composed of Watson-Crick base pairs, GA tandem base pairs, GU tandem base pairs, and loop E motifs (both eubacterial and eukaryotic). The effect of magnesium ion concentration on stability was interpreted in terms of two simple models. The first assumes an uptake of metal ion upon duplex formation. The second assumes nonspecific electrostatic attraction of metal ions to the RNA oligomer. For all oligomers, except the eubacterial loop E, the data could best be interpreted as nonspecific binding of metal ions to the RNAs. The effect of magnesium ions on the stability of the eubacterial loop E was distinct from that seen with the other oligomers in two ways. First, the extent of stabilization by magnesium ions (as measured by either change in melting temperature or free energy) was three times greater than that observed for the other helical oligomers. Second, the presence of magnesium ions produces a doubling of the enthalpy for the melting transition. These results indicate that magnesium ion stabilizes the eubacterial loop E sequence by chelating the RNA specifically. Further, these results on a rather small system shed light on the large enthalpy changes observed upon thermal unfolding of large RNAs like group I introns. It is suggested that parts of those large enthalpy changes observed in the folding of RNAs may be assigned to variations in the hydration states and types of coordinating atoms in some specifically bound magnesium ions and to an increase in the observed cooperativity of the folding transition due to the binding of those magnesium ions coupling the two stems together. Brownian dynamic simulations, carried out to visualize the metal ion binding sites, reveal rather delocalized ionic densities in all oligomers, except for the eubacterial loop E, in which precisely located ion densities were previously calculated.
Serra, MJ; Baird, JD; Dale, T; Fey, BL; Retatagos, K; Westhof, E
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