Genetic analysis of the structure and function of transfer messenger RNA pseudoknot 1

Douglas R. Tanner, Jonathan D. Dewey, Mickey R. Miller, Allen R. Buskirk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


tmRNA rescues stalled ribosomes in eubacteria by forcing the ribosome to abandon its mRNA template and resume translation with tmRNA itself as a template. Pseudoknot 1 (pk1), immediately upstream of this coding region in tmRNA, is a structural element that is considered essential for tmRNA function based on the analysis of pk1 mutants in vitro. pk1 binds near the ribosomal decoding site and may make base-specific contacts with tmRNA ligands. To study pk1 structure and function in vivo, we have developed a genetic selection that ties the life of Escherichia coli cells to tmRNA activity. Mutation of pk1 at 20% per base and selection for tmRNA activity yielded sequences that retain the same pseudoknot fold. In contrast, selection of active mutants from 10 6 completely random sequences identified hairpin structures that functionally replace pk1. Rational design of a hairpin with increased stability using an unrelated sequence yielded a tmRNA mutant with nearly wild-type activity. We conclude that the role of pk1 in tmRNA function is purely structural and that it can be replaced with a variety of hairpin structures. Our results demonstrate that in the study of functional RNAs, the inactivity of a mutant designed to destroy a given structure should not be interpreted as proof that the structure is necessary for RNA function. Such mutations may only destabilize a global fold that could be formed equally well by an entirely different, stable structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10561-10566
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 14 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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