Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
RNA secondary structure is important in a wide variety of biological processes, but relatively little is known about the pathways and kinetics of RNA folding. When the IS 10 transposase (tnp) gene is transcribed from a promoter outside the element, little increase in tnp expression is observed. This protection from outside transcription (pot) occurs at the translational level, presumably resulting from mRNA secondary structure proposed to sequester the tnp ribosomebinding site. Here, we confirm the pot RNA structure and show that it blocks 30S ribosomal subunit binding in vitro. Point mutations that abolish protection in vivo map to the pot structure. Surprisingly, these pot mutations do not severely alter the pot secondary structure or increase 30S subunit binding in vitro, except in one case. Using an oligonucleotide hybridization assay, we show that most of the pot mutations slow the kinetics of pot structure formation, with little or no effect on the inhibitory function of the final structure. Moreover, a suppressor mutation reverses this effect. We propose a pathway for pot mRNA folding that is consistent with the mutations and implicates the formation of important kinetic intermediates. The signficance of these observations for the RNA folding problem in general is discussed.
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