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Journal/Book: Nucl. Acids Res.
Published: 2024
Pages: 87-100
Volume: 52
Issue: 1
Accession no.:

RNA G-quadruplex folding is a multi-pathway process driven by conformational entropy

Marijana U, Burkhart I, Müller S , Schwalbe H, Schwierz N
The kinetics of folding is crucial for the function of many regulatory RNAs including RNA G-quadruplexes (rG4s). Here, we characterize the folding pathways of a G-quadruplex from the telomeric repeat-containing RNA by combining all-atom molecular dynamics and coarse-grained simulations with circular dichroism experiments. The quadruplex fold is stabilized by cations and thus, the ion atmosphere forming a double layer surrounding the highly charged quadruplex guides the folding process. To capture the ionic double layer in implicit solvent coarse-grained simulations correctly, we develop a matching procedure based on all-atom simulations in explicit water. The procedure yields quantitative agreement between simulations and experiments as judged by the populations of folded and unfolded states at different salt concentrations and temperatures. Subsequently, we show that coarse-grained simulations with a resolution of three interaction sites per nucleotide are well suited to resolve the folding pathways and their intermediate states. The results reveal that the folding progresses from unpaired chain via hairpin, triplex and double-hairpin constellations to the final folded structure. The two- and three-strand intermediates are stabilized by transient Hoogsteen interactions. Each pathway passes through two on-pathway intermediates. We hypothesize that conformational entropy is a hallmark of rG4 folding. Conformational entropy leads to the observed branched multi-pathway folding process for TERRA25. We corroborate this hypothesis by presenting the free energy landscapes and folding pathways of four rG4 systems with varying loop length.
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Prof. Dr. Harald Schwalbe
Institut für Organische Chemie und Chemische Biologie
Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität
Max-von-Laue-Str. 7
D-60438 Frankfurt am Main
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