Learning how native RNA conformations can be stabilized relative to unfolded states is an important objective, for both understanding natural RNAs and improving the design of artificial functional RNAs. Here we show that covalently attached double-stranded DNA constraints (ca. 14 base pairs in length) can significantly stabilize the native conformation of an RNA molecule. Using the P4-P6 domain of the Tetrahymena group I intron as the test system, we identified pairs of RNA sites where attaching a DNA duplex is predicted to be structurally compatible with only the folded state of the RNA. The DNA-constrained RNAs were synthesized and shown by nondenaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (native PAGE) to have substantial decreases in their Mg2+ midpoints ([Mg2+]1/2 values). These changes are equivalent to free energy stabilizations as large as ΔΔG° = -2.5 kcal/mol, which is∼ 14% of the total tertiary folding energy. For comparison, the sole modification of P4-P6 previously reported to stabilize this RNA is a single-nucleotide deletion (ΔC209) that provides only 1.1 kcal/mol of stabilization. Our findings indicate that nature has not completely optimized P4-P6 RNA folding. Furthermore, the DNA constraints are designed not to interact directly and extensively with the RNA, but rather more indirectly to modulate the relative stabilities of folded and unfolded RNA states. The successful implementation of this strategy to further stabilize a natively folded RNA conformation suggests an important element of modularity in stabilization of RNA structure, with implications for how nature might use other molecules such as proteins to stabilize specific RNA conformations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry