, Volume 8, Issue 3-4, pp 747-755

Studies on the structure and function of 16S ribosomal RNA using structure-specific chemical probes

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Abstract

Recent technological developments permit us to examine the accessibility of specific atoms on any nucleotide in any large RNA molecule to certain chemical probes. This can provide detailed information about the higher order structure of large RNA molecules, including secondary and tertiary structure, protein-RNA contacts, binding sites for functional ligands and possible biologically significant conformational changes. Here, we summarize recent studies on (i) the conformation of naked 16S rRNA under a variety of ionic conditions, and (ii) the behaviour of 16S rRNA in active and inactive 30S subunits, as defined by Zamir, Elson and their colleagues. The latter study reveals a reciprocal conformational change in the vicinity of the decoding region of 16S rRNA in 30S ribosomal subunits. This conformational change appears to be a rearrangement of tertiary and/or quaternary structure involving several universally conserved nucleotides. No reproducible effects are seen elsewhere in the molecule, suggesting that the active-inactive transition is a result of the observed conformational change.