Recognition and cleavage of primary microRNA precursors by the nuclear processing enzyme Drosha

Yan Zeng, Rui Yi, Bryan R. Cullen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

474 Scopus citations


A critical step during human microRNA maturation is the processing of the primary microRNA transcript by the nuclear RNaseIII enzyme Drosha to generate the ∼60-nucleotide precursor microRNA hairpin. How Drosha recognizes primary RNA substrates and selects its cleavage sites has remained a mystery, especially given that the known targets for Drosha processing show no discernable sequence homology. Here, we show that human Drosha selectively cleaves RNA hairpins bearing a large (≥10 nucleotides) terminal loop. From the junction of the loop and the adjacent stem, Drosha then cleaves approximately two helical RNA turns into the stem to produce the precursor microRNA. Beyond the precursor microRNA cleavage sites, approximately one helix turn of stem extension is also essential for efficient processing. While the sites of Drosha cleavage are determined largely by the distance from the terminal loop, variations in stem structure and sequence around the cleavage site can fine-tune the actual cleavage sites chosen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-148
Number of pages11
JournalEMBO Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 12 2005


  • Drosha
  • MicroRNA
  • RNA III enzymes
  • RNA interference
  • RNA processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience


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