The Roles of Metal Ions in Regulation by Riboswitches
Metal ions are required by all organisms in order to execute an array of essential molecular functions. They play a critical role in many catalytic mechanisms and structural properties. Proper homeostasis of ions is critical; levels that are aberrantly low or high are deleterious to cellular physiology. To maintain stable intracellular pools, metal ion-sensing regulatory (metalloregulatory) proteins couple metal ion concentration fluctuations with expression of genes encoding for cation transport or sequestration. However, these transcriptional-based regulatory strategies are not the only mechanisms by which organisms coordinate metal ions with gene expression. Intriguingly, a few classes of signal-responsive RNA elements have also been discovered to function as metalloregulatory agents. This suggests that RNA-based regulatory strategies can be precisely tuned to intracellular metal ion pools, functionally akin to metalloregulatory proteins. In addition to these metal-sensing regulatory RNAs, there is a yet broader role for metal ions in directly assisting the structural integrity of other signal-responsive regulatory RNA elements. In this chapter, we discuss how the intimate physicochemical relationship between metal ions and nucleic acids is important for the structure and function of metal ion- and metabolite-sensing regulatory RNAs.