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Choreographed origami: Exploring how an RNA molecule folds

Date:
October 14, 2013
Source:
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)
Summary:
Like a budding origami artist penciling in the folds, the cell uses tags called methyl groups to help mark where and how an RNA molecule should be folded. Scientists have now discovered that, to build ribosomes, pairs of these tags are added in a specific order.

Structure of the RNA-tagging machinery shows that only one pair of proteins (blue) can add tags to the RNA (red) at a time.
Credit: EMBL/Carlomagno

Like a budding origami artist pencilling in the folds, the cell uses tags called methyl groups to help mark where and how an RNA molecule should be folded. In work published online today in Nature, scientists at EMBL Heidelberg have discovered that, to build ribosomes, pairs of these tags are added in a specific order.

An important step in building ribosomes -- the cell's protein factories -- is like a strictly choreographed dance, scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, have discovered. To build these factories, other 'machines' inside the cell have to produce specific RNA molecules and fold them into the right shape, then combine the folded RNA with proteins to form a working ribosome. Like a budding origami artist pencilling in the folds, the cell uses tags called methyl groups to help mark where and how an RNA molecule should be folded. In work published online today in Nature, the scientists have discovered that pairs of these tags are added in a specific order. The study combined nuclear magnetic resonance at EMBL and neutron scattering at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France.

Led by Teresa Carlomagno at EMBL, the scientists were able to determine the 3D structure of the complex that adds methyl tags to the RNA, with the RNA molecules attached. They discovered that the different components of this tagging machine pair up and move in sequence, like dancers following a set choreography.

"We found that the complex has four copies of each protein, and four methylation sites on the RNA, but those methylation sites aren't all the same," Carlomagno says. "They come in pairs, and one pair has to be methylated before the other."

The fact that the pairs of tags have to be added in a particular order could be a way for the cell to control how the RNA is folded, and ultimately when and where ribosomes are formed, the scientists believe.

The study provides a detailed view of the complex in a form that's very close to what's found inside our cells. To obtain it, the EMBL scientists teamed up with Frank Gabel at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) and the Institut de Biologie Structurale (IBS), both in Grenoble, France, to combine their expertise in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) with the Gabel lab's skills in small angle neutron scattering (SANS).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Audrone Lapinaite, Bernd Simon, Lars Skjaerven, Magdalena Rakwalska-Bange, Frank Gabel, Teresa Carlomagno. The structure of the box C/D enzyme reveals regulation of RNA methylation. Nature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12581

Cite This Page:

European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). "Choreographed origami: Exploring how an RNA molecule folds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131014093911.htm>.
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). (2013, October 14). Choreographed origami: Exploring how an RNA molecule folds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131014093911.htm
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). "Choreographed origami: Exploring how an RNA molecule folds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131014093911.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

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