Role of Electrostatics in Protein-RNA Binding: The Global vs the Local Energy Landscape

Zhaleh Ghaemi, Irisbel Guzman, David Gnutt, Zaida Luthey-Schulten, Martin Gruebele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


U1A protein-stem loop 2 RNA association is a basic step in the assembly of the spliceosomal U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein. Long-range electrostatic interactions due to the positive charge of U1A are thought to provide high binding affinity for the negatively charged RNA. Short range interactions, such as hydrogen bonds and contacts between RNA bases and protein side chains, favor a specific binding site. Here, we propose that electrostatic interactions are as important as local contacts in biasing the protein-RNA energy landscape toward a specific binding site. We show by using molecular dynamics simulations that deletion of two long-range electrostatic interactions (K22Q and K50Q) leads to mutant-specific alternative RNA bound states. One of these states preserves short-range interactions with aromatic residues in the original binding site, while the other one does not. We test the computational prediction with experimental temperature-jump kinetics using a tryptophan probe in the U1A-RNA binding site. The two mutants show the distinct predicted kinetic behaviors. Thus, the stem loop 2 RNA has multiple binding sites on a rough RNA-protein binding landscape. We speculate that the rough protein-RNA binding landscape, when biased to different local minima by electrostatics, could be one way that protein-RNA interactions evolve toward new binding sites and novel function. (Figure Presented).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8437-8446
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 14 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry

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