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Metal Ion Binding and Function in Natural and Artificial Small RNA Enzymes from a Structural Perspective

Ribozymes are often perceived as part of an antiquated catalytic arsenal hearkening back to a pre-biotic RNA World that was eventually supplanted by proteins. However, recent genome-wide searches have revealed a plethora of new catalytic RNA motifs that appear to be variations on well-known themes. This suggests that ribozymes have continued to evolve in order to fulfill specific, RNA-essential biological niches. Although such ribozymes are small and catalyze one-step phosphodiester-bond scission reactions, ongoing structure and function analyses at the lab bench have demonstrated that RNA has the capacity for a diverse number of reactions such as carbon-carbon bond formation, and tRNA aminoacylation. Here we describe the fundamental structure and metal binding properties of four naturally occurring RNA enzymes: the hammerhead, hairpin, hepatitis delta virus, and glmS metabolite sensing ribozyme. In addition, we discuss the fold and ion coordination of three artificial ribozymes developed to probe the boundaries of RNA catalysis; these include the leadzyme, the flexizyme, and the Diels-Alder ribozyme. Our approach is to relate structure to function with the knowledge of ideal metal-ion coordination geometry that we have derived herein from surveys of high-resolution small molecule structures. An emergent theme is that natural and artificial ribozymes that catalyze single-step reactions often possess a pre-formed active site. Multivalent ions facilitate RNA active site formation, but can also provide Lewis acid functionality that is necessary for catalysis. When metal ion binding isn't possible, ribozymes make due by ionizing their bases, or by recruiting cofactors that augment their chemical functionality.

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06 Apr 2011
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From the book series:
Metal Ions in Life Sciences