Functional Roles of Chelated Magnesium Ions in RNA Folding and Function

Ryota Yamagami, Jacob P. Sieg, Philip C. Bevilacqua

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


RNA regulates myriad cellular events such as transcription, translation, and splicing. To perform these essential functions, RNA often folds into complex tertiary structures in which its negatively charged ribose-phosphate backbone interacts with metal ions. Magnesium, the most abundant divalent metal ion in cells, neutralizes the backbone, thereby playing essential roles in RNA folding and function. This has been known for more than 50 years, and there are now thousands of in vitro studies, most of which have used ≥10 mM free Mg2+ ions to achieve optimal RNA folding and function. In the cell, however, concentrations of free Mg2+ ions are much lower, with most Mg2+ ions chelated by metabolites. In this Perspective, we curate data from a number of sources to provide extensive summaries of cellular concentrations of metabolites that bind Mg2+ and to estimate cellular concentrations of metabolite-chelated Mg2+ species, in the representative prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and iBMK cells. Recent research from our lab and others has uncovered the fact that such weakly chelated Mg2+ ions can enhance RNA function, including its thermodynamic stability, chemical stability, and catalysis. We also discuss how metabolite-chelated Mg2+ complexes may have played roles in the origins of life. It is clear from this analysis that bound Mg2+ should not be simply considered non-RNA-interacting and that future RNA research, as well as protein research, could benefit from considering chelated magnesium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2374-2386
Number of pages13
Issue number31
StatePublished - Aug 10 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry


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