Tertiary RNA structures from thermophilic bacteria generally are more stable than their mesophilic homologs. To understand the structural basis of the increase in stability, we investigated equilibrium folding of the specificity domain (S-domain) of RNase P RNA from a mesophilic (Escherichia coli) and a thermophilic (Thermus thermophilus) bacterium. Equilibrium folding of both S-domains is described by a minimal, three-state folding scheme, U-to-I-to-N. In the I-to-N transition of the thermophilic S-domain, more structure forms and protections are stronger against T1 nuclease and hydroxyl radical reactions. Phylogenetic comparison in the context of the native structure reveals that among 39 nucleotide differences between these S-domains, 12 likely contribute to higher stability. These residues participate in extensive networks of hydrogen bonding, stacking, and metal ion coordination throughout the molecule. The thermophilic S-domain achieves higher stability by mutating strategic base pairs to G-C, decreasing surface accessibility of the native state, and increasing the amount of structure formation in the native folding transition. An E. coli S-domain mutant containing these 12 nt has the same stability and folding cooperativity as the T. thermophilus S-domain. E. coli S-domain mutants containing a subset of 4 or 6 nt have the same stability as the T. thermophilus S-domain but the same folding cooperativity as the E. coli S-domain. These results show that increasing stability can be accomplished by mutations within a local structure, but increasing folding cooperativity needs concerted changes among multiple structural units.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology