RNA has a dual role as an informational molecule and a direct effector of biological tasks. The latter function is enabled by RNA’s ability to adopt complex secondary and tertiary folds and thus has motivated extensive computational and experimental efforts for determining RNA structures. Existing approaches for evaluating RNA structure have been largely limited to in vitro systems, yet the thermodynamic forces which drive RNA folding in vitro may not be sufficient to predict stable RNA structures in vivo. Indeed, the presence of RNA-binding proteins and ATP-dependent helicases can influence which structures are present inside cells. Here we present an approach for globally monitoring RNA structure in native conditions in vivo with single-nucleotide precision. This method is based on in vivo modification with dimethyl sulphate (DMS), which reacts with unpaired adenine and cytosine residues, followed by deep sequencing to monitor modifications. Our data from yeast and mammalian cells are in excellent agreement with known messenger RNA structures and with the high-resolution crystal structure of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae ribosome. Comparison between in vivo and in vitro data reveals that in rapidly dividing cells there are vastly fewer structured mRNA regions in vivo than in vitro. Even thermostable RNA structures are often denatured in cells, highlighting the importance of cellular processes in regulating RNA structure. Indeed, analysis of mRNA structure under ATP-depleted conditions in yeast shows that energy-dependent processes strongly contribute to the predominantly unfolded state of mRNAs inside cells. Our studies broadly enable the functional analysis of physiological RNA structures and reveal that, in contrast to the Anfinsen view of protein folding whereby the structure formed is the most thermodynamically favourable, thermodynamics have an incomplete role in determining mRNA structure in vivo.
In parallel to the genetic code for protein synthesis, a second layer of information is embedded in all RNA transcripts in the form of RNA structure. RNA structure influences practically every step in the gene expression program1. However, the nature of most RNA structures or effects of sequence variation on structure are not known. Here we report the initial landscape and variation of RNA secondary structures (RSSs) in a human family trio (mother, father and their child). This provides a comprehensive RSS map of human coding and non-coding RNAs. We identify unique RSS signatures that demarcate open reading frames and splicing junctions, and define authentic microRNA-binding sites. Comparison of native deproteinized RNA isolated from cells versus refolded purified RNA suggests that the majority of the RSS information is encoded within RNA sequence. Over 1,900 transcribed single nucleotide variants (approximately 15% of all transcribed single nucleotide variants) alter local RNA structure. We discover simple sequence and spacing rules that determine the ability of point mutations to impact RSSs. Selective depletion of ‘riboSNitches’ versus structurally synonymous variants at precise locations suggests selection for specific RNA shapes at thousands of sites, including 3′ untranslated regions, binding sites of microRNAs and RNA-binding proteins genome-wide. These results highlight the potentially broad contribution of RNA structure and its variation to gene regulation.
Fluorescence-based, genetically encodable biosensors are widely used tools for real-time analysis of biological processes. Over the last few decades, the number of available genetically encodable biosensors and the types of processes they can monitor have increased rapidly. Here, we aim to introduce the reader to general principles and practices in biosensor development and highlight ways in which biosensors can be used to illuminate outstanding questions of biological function. Specifically, we focus on sensors developed for monitoring kinase activity and use them to illustrate some common considerations for biosensor design. We describe several uses to which kinase and second-messenger biosensors have been put, and conclude with considerations for the use of biosensors once they are developed. Overall, as fluorescence-based biosensors continue to diversify and improve, we expect them to continue to be widely used as reliable and fruitful tools for gaining deeper insights into cellular and organismal function.
G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the largest class of pharmaceutical protein targets, yet drug development is encumbered by a lack of information about their molecular structure and conformational dynamics. Most mechanistic and structural studies as well as in vitro drug screening with purified receptors require detergent solubilization of the GPCR, but typically, these proteins exhibit only low stability in detergent micelles. We have developed the first directed evolution method that allows the direct selection of GPCRs stable in a chosen detergent from libraries containing over 100 million individual variants. The crucial concept was to encapsulate single Escherichia coli cells of a library, each expressing a different GPCR variant, to form detergent-resistant, semipermeable nano-containers. Unlike naked cells, these containers are not dissolved by detergents, allowing us to solubilize the GPCR proteins in situ while maintaining an association with the protein's genetic information, a prerequisite for directed evolution. The pore size was controlled to permit GPCR ligands to permeate but the solubilized receptor to remain within the nanocapsules. Fluorescently labeled ligands were used to bind to those GPCR variants inside the nano-containers that remained active in the detergent tested. With the use of fluorescence-activated cell sorting, detergent-stable mutants derived from two different family A GPCRs could be identified, some with the highest stability reported in short-chain detergents. In principle, this method (named cellular high-throughput encapsulation, solubilization and screening) is not limited to engineering stabilized GPCRs but could be used to stabilize other proteins for biochemical and structural studies.
Protein concentrations are often regulated by dynamic changes in translation rates. Nevertheless, it has been challenging to directly monitor changes in translation in living cells. We have developed a reporter system to measure real-time changes of translation rates in human or mouse individual cells by conjugating translation regulatory motifs to sequences encoding a nuclear targeted fluorescent protein and a controllable destabilization domain. Application of the method showed that individual cells undergo marked fluctuations in the translation rate of mRNAs whose 5′ terminal oligopyrimidine (5′ TOP) motif regulates the synthesis of ribosomal proteins. Furthermore, we show that small reductions in amino acid levels signal through different mTOR-dependent pathways to control TOP mRNA translation, whereas larger reductions in amino acid levels control translation through eIF2A. Our study demonstrates that dynamic measurements of single-cell activities of translation regulatory motifs can be used to identify and investigate fundamental principles of translation.
We demonstrate that it is feasible to determine high-resolution protein structures by electron crystallography of three-dimensional crystals in an electron cryo-microscope (CryoEM). Lysozyme microcrystals were frozen on an electron microscopy grid, and electron diffraction data collected to 1.7 Å resolution. We developed a data collection protocol to collect a full-tilt series in electron diffraction to atomic resolution. A single tilt series contains up to 90 individual diffraction patterns collected from a single crystal with tilt angle increment of 0.1–1° and a total accumulated electron dose less than 10 electrons per angstrom squared. We indexed the data from three crystals and used them for structure determination of lysozyme by molecular replacement followed by crystallographic refinement to 2.9 Å resolution. This proof of principle paves the way for the implementation of a new technique, which we name ‘MicroED’, that may have wide applicability in structural biology
Translation initiation in eukaryotes is a complex and highly regulated process during which several initiation factors cooperate to recruit an initiator tRNA to the small ribosomal subunit, where the mRNA is scanned for an AUG start codon. Two recent reports provide new structural insights into this process and reveal key functions of initiation factors 1 (eIF1) and 1A (eIF1A) in start-codon selection in atomic detail.
RNA structure has critical roles in processes ranging from ligand sensing to the regulation of translation, polyadenylation and splicing1, 2, 3, 4. However, a lack of genome-wide in vivo RNA structural data has limited our understanding of how RNA structure regulates gene expression in living cells. Here we present a high-throughput, genome-wide in vivo RNA structure probing method, structure-seq, in which dimethyl sulphate methylation of unprotected adenines and cytosines is identified by next-generation sequencing. Application of this method to Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings yielded the first in vivo genome-wide RNA structure map at nucleotide resolution for any organism, with quantitative structural information across more than 10,000 transcripts. Our analysis reveals a three-nucleotide periodic repeat pattern in the structure of coding regions, as well as a less-structured region immediately upstream of the start codon, and shows that these features are strongly correlated with translation efficiency. We also find patterns of strong and weak secondary structure at sites of alternative polyadenylation, as well as strong secondary structure at 5′ splice sites that correlates with unspliced events. Notably, in vivo structures of messenger RNAs annotated for stress responses are poorly predicted in silico, whereas mRNA structures of genes related to cell function maintenance are well predicted. Global comparison of several structural features between these two categories shows that the mRNAs associated with stress responses tend to have more single-strandedness, longer maximal loop length and higher free energy per nucleotide, features that may allow these RNAs to undergo conformational changes in response to environmental conditions. Structure-seq allows the RNA structurome and its biological roles to be interrogated on a genome-wide scale and should be applicable to any organism
Rabbit reticulocyte lysate (RRL) is a mammalian cell-free system for protein production. However, one of the limitations of this system is its low protein yield. Inclusion of recombinant virus proteins and specific viral structures...
Human Staufen1 (Stau1) is a double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-binding protein implicated in multiple post-transcriptional gene-regulatory processes. Here we combined RNA immunoprecipitation in tandem (RIPiT) with RNase footprinting, formaldehyde cross-linking, sonication-mediated RNA fragmentation and deep sequencing to map Staufen1-binding sites transcriptome wide. We find that Stau1 binds complex secondary structures containing multiple short helices, many of which are formed by inverted Alu elements in annotated 3′ untranslated regions (UTRs) or in 'strongly distal' 3′ UTRs. Stau1 also interacts with actively translating ribosomes and with mRNA coding sequences (CDSs) and 3′ UTRs in proportion to their GC content and propensity to form internal secondary structure. On mRNAs with high CDS GC content, higher Stau1 levels lead to greater ribosome densities, thus suggesting a general role for Stau1 in modulating translation elongation through structured CDS regions. Our results also indicate that Stau1 regulates translation of transcription-regulatory proteins
We demonstrate that it is feasible to determine high-resolution protein structures by electron crystallography of three-dimensional crystals in an electron cryo-microscope (CryoEM). Lysozyme microcrystals were frozen on an electron microscopy grid, and electron diffraction data collected to 1.7 Å resolution. We developed a data collection protocol to collect a full-tilt series in electron diffraction to atomic resolution. A single tilt series contains up to 90 individual diffraction patterns collected from a single crystal with tilt angle increment of 0.1–1° and a total accumulated electron dose less than 10 electrons per angstrom squared. We indexed the data from three crystals and used them for structure determination of lysozyme by molecular replacement followed by crystallographic refinement to 2.9 Å resolution. This proof of principle paves the way for the implementation of a new technique, which we name ‘MicroED’, that may have wide applicability in structural biology.
Lipids have a role in virtually all biological processes, acting as structural elements, scaffolds and signaling molecules, but they are still largely under-represented in known biological networks. Here we describe a liposome microarray–based assay (LiMA), a method that measures protein recruitment to membranes in a quantitative, automated, multiplexed and high-throughput manner
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