- Translation on demand by a simple RNA-based thermosensor (2011)
- Structured RNA regions are important gene control elements in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Here, we show that the mRNA of a cyanobacterial heat shock gene contains a built-in thermosensor critical for photosynthetic activity under stress conditions. The exceptionally short 5´-untranslated region is comprised of a single hairpin with an internal asymmetric loop. It inhibits translation of the Synechocystis hsp17 transcript at normal growth conditions, permits translation initiation under stress conditions and shuts down Hsp17 production in the recovery phase. Point mutations that stabilized or destabilized the RNA structure deregulated reporter gene expression in vivo and ribosome binding in vitro. Introduction of such point mutations into the Synechocystis genome produced severe phenotypic defects. Reversible formation of the open and closed structure was beneficial for viability, integrity of the photosystem and oxygen evolution. Continuous production of Hsp17 was detrimental when the stress declined indicating that shutting-off heat shock protein production is an important, previously unrecognized function of RNA thermometers. We discovered a simple biosensor that strictly adjusts the cellular level of a molecular chaperone to the physiological need.
- Modulation of the stability of the Salmonella fourU-type RNA thermometer (2011)
- RNA thermometers are translational control elements that regulate the expression of bacterial heat shock and virulence genes. They fold into complex secondary structures that block translation at low temperatures. A temperature increase releases the ribosome binding site and thus permits translation initiation. In fourU-type RNA thermometers, the AGGA sequence of the SD region is paired with four consecutive uridines. We investigated the melting points of the wild-type and mutant sequences. It was decreased by 5°C when a stabilizing GC basepair was exchanged by an AU pair or increased by 11°C when an internal AG mismatch was converted to a GC pair, respectively. Stabilized or destabilized RNA structures are directly correlated with decreased or increased in vivo gene expression, respectively. Mg2+ also affected the melting point of the fourU thermometer. Variations of the Mg2+ concentration in the physiological range between 1 and 2 mM translated into a 2.8°C shift of the melting point. Thus, Mg2+ binding to the hairpin RNA is regulatory relevant. Applying three different NMR techniques, two Mg2+ binding sites were found in the hairpin structure. One of these binding sites could be identified as outer sphere binding site that is located within the fourU motif. Binding of the two Mg2+ ions exhibits a positive cooperativity with a Hill coefficient of 1.47. Free energy values delta G for Mg2+ binding determined by NMR are in agreement with data determined from CD measurements. Physiological Mg2+ concentrations reduce enthalpy and entropy values of uncorrelated base pair opening processes for almost all nucleobases.
- Direct observation of the temperature-induced melting process of the Salmonella fourU RNA thermometer at base-pair resolution (2010)
- In prokaryotes, RNA thermometers regulate a number of heat shock and virulence genes. These temperature sensitive RNA elements are usually located in the 5'-untranslated regions of the regulated genes. They repress translation initiation by base pairing to the Shine–Dalgarno sequence at low temperatures. We investigated the thermodynamic stability of the temperature labile hairpin 2 of the Salmonella fourU RNA thermometer over a broad temperature range and determined free energy, enthalpy and entropy values for the base-pair opening of individual nucleobases by measuring the temperature dependence of the imino proton exchange rates via NMR spectroscopy. Exchange rates were analyzed for the wild-type (wt) RNA and the A8C mutant. The wt RNA was found to be stabilized by the extraordinarily stable G14–C25 base pair. The mismatch base pair in the wt RNA thermometer (A8–G31) is responsible for the smaller cooperativity of the unfolding transition in the wt RNA. Enthalpy and entropy values for the base-pair opening events exhibit linear correlation for both RNAs. The slopes of these correlations coincide with the melting points of the RNAs determined by CD spectroscopy. RNA unfolding occurs at a temperature where all nucleobases have equal thermodynamic stabilities. Our results are in agreement with a consecutive zipper-type unfolding mechanism in which the stacking interaction is responsible for the observed cooperativity. Furthermore, remote effects of the A8C mutation affecting the stability of nucleobase G14 could be identified. According to our analysis we deduce that this effect is most probably transduced via the hydration shell of the RNA.