Analysis of the tertiary structure of the ribonuclease P ribozyme-substrate complex by site-specific photoaffinity crosslinking

Michael E. Harris, Alexei V. Kazantsev, Jiunn Liang Chen, Norman R. Pace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Bacterial ribonuclease P (RNase P), an endonuclease involved in tRNA maturation, is a ribonucleoprotein containing a catalytic RNA. The secondary structure of this ribozyme is well-established, and a low-resolution model of the three-dimensional structure of the ribozyme-substrate complex has been proposed based on site-specific crosslinking and phylogenetic comparative data [Harris ME et al., 1994 EMBO J 13:3953-3963]. However, several substructures of that model were poorly constrained by the available data. In the present analysis, additional constraints between elements within the Escherichia coli RNase P RNA-pre-tRNA complex were determined by intra- and intermolecular crosslinking experiments. Circularly permuted RNase P RNAs were used to position an azidophenacyl photoactive crosslinking agent specifically at strategic sites within the ribozyme-substrate complex. Crosslink sites were mapped by primer extension and confirmed by analysis of the mobility of the crosslinked RNA lariats on denaturing acryl-amide gels relative to circular and linear RNA standards. Crosslinked species generally retained significant catalytic activity, indicating that the results reflect the native ribozyme structure. The crosslinking results support the general configuration of the structure model and predicate new positions and orientations for helices that were previously poorly constrained by the data set. The expanded library of crosslinking constraints was used, together with secondary and tertiary structure identified by phylogenetic sequence comparisons, to refine significantly the model of RNase P RNA with bound substrate pre-tRNA. The crosslinking results and data from chemical-modification and mutational studies are discussed in the context of the current structural perspective on this ribozyme.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)561-576
Number of pages16
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Crosslinking
  • RNA structure
  • Ribonuclease P
  • Ribozyme
  • tRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology


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