Importance of Diffuse Metal Ion Binding to RNA
RNAs are highly charged polyanionic molecules. RNA structure and function are strongly correlated with the ionic condition of the solution. The primary focus of this article is on the role of diffusive ions in RNA folding. Due to the long-range nature of electrostatic interactions, the diffuse ions can contribute significantly to RNA structural stability and folding kinetics. We present an overview of the experimental findings as well as the theoretical developments on the diffuse ion effects in RNA folding. This review places heavy emphasis on the effect of magnesium ions. Magnesium ions play a highly efficient role in stabilizing RNA tertiary structures and promoting tertiary structural folding. The highly efficient role goes beyond the mean-field effect such as the ionic strength. In addition to the effects of specific ion binding and ion dehydration, ion-ion correlation for the diffuse ions can contribute to the efficient role of the multivalent ions such as the magnesium ions in RNA folding.