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Salt-dependent folding energy landscape of RNA three-way junction.

ABSTRACT: RNAs are highly negatively charged chain molecules. Metal ions play a crucial role in RNA folding stability and conformational changes. In this work, we employ the recently developed tightly bound ion (TBI) model, which accounts for the correlation between ions and the fluctuation of ion distributions, to investigate the ion-dependent free energy landscape for the three-way RNA junction in a 16S rRNA domain. The predicted electrostatic free energy landscape suggests that 1), ion-mediated electrostatic interactions cause an ensemble of unfolded conformations narrowly populated around the maximally extended structure; and 2), Mg(2+) ion-induced correlation effects help bring the helices to the folded state. Nonelectrostatic interactions, such as noncanonical interactions within the junctions and between junctions and helix stems, might further limit the conformational diversity of the unfolded state, resulting in a more ordered unfolded state than the one predicted from the electrostatic effect. Moreover, the folded state is predominantly stabilized by the coaxial stacking force. The TBI-predicted folding stability agrees well with the experimental measurements for the different Na(+) and Mg(2+) ion concentrations. For Mg(2+) solutions, the TBI model, which accounts for the Mg(2+) ion correlation effect, gives more improved predictions than the Poisson-Boltzmann theory, which tends to underestimate the role of Mg(2+) in stabilizing the folded structure. Detailed control tests indicate that the dominant ion correlation effect comes from the charge-charge Coulombic correlation rather than the size (excluded volume) correlation between the ions. Furthermore, the model gives quantitative predictions for the ion size effect in the folding energy landscape and folding cooperativity.


PROVIDER: S-EPMC2800977 | BioStudies | 2010-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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