The Spliceosome and Its Metal Ions
The spliceosome is a massive complex of 5 RNAs and many proteins that associate to catalyze precursor messenger RNA splicing. The process of splicing involves two phosphoryl transfer reactions that result in intron excision and ligation of the flanking exons. Since it is required for normal protein production in eukaryotic cells, pre-mRNA splicing is an essential step in gene expression. Although high resolution structural views of the spliceosome do not yet exist, a growing body of evidence indicates that the spliceosome is a magnesium-dependent enzyme that utilizes catalytic metal ions to stabilize both transition states during the two phosphoryl transfer steps of splicing. A wealth of data also indicate that the core of the spliceosome is comprised of RNA, and suggest that the spliceosome may be a ribozyme. This chapter presents the evidence for metal ion catalysis by the spliceosome, draws comparisons to similar RNA enzymes, and discusses the future directions for research into the mechanism of pre-mRNA splicing.