Multiple Roles of Metal Ions in Large Ribozymes
Since the discovery of catalytic RNA molecules (ribozymes), intense research has been devoted to understand their structure and activity. Among RNA molecules, the large ribozymes, namely group I and group II introns and RNase P, are of special importance. The first two ribozymes are known for their ability to perform self-splicing while RNase P is responsible for the 5′-end maturation of tRNA in bacteria, archea, and eukaryotes. All three groups of ribozymes show a significant requirement for metal ions in order to establish the active tertiary structure that enables catalysis. The primary role of both monovalent and divalent metal ions is to screen the negative charge associated with the phosphate sugar backbone, but the metal ions also play an active role in catalysis. Biochemical and biophysical investigations, supported by recent findings from X-ray crystal structures, allow clarifying and rationalizing both the structural and catalytic roles of metal ions in large ribozymes. In particular, the “two-metal-ion mechanism”, describing how metal ions in the active center take part in catalysis, has been largely corroborated.