Prevalence of syn nucleobases in the active sites of functional RNAs

Joshua E. Sokoloski, Stephanie A. Godfrey, Sarah E. Dombrowski, Philip C. Bevilacqua

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Biological RNAs, like their DNA counterparts, contain helical stretches, which have standard Watson-Crick base pairs in the anti conformation. Most functional RNAs also adopt geometries with far greater complexity such as bulges, loops, and multihelical junctions. Occasionally, nucleobases in these regions populate the syn conformation wherein the base resides close to or over the ribose sugar, which leads to a more compact state. The importance of the syn conformation to RNA function is largely unknown. In this study, we analyze 51 RNAs with tertiary structure, including aptamers, riboswitches, ribozymes, and ribosomal RNAs, for number, location, and properties of syn nucleobases. These RNAs represent the set of nonoverlapping, moderate- to high-resolution structures available at present. We find that syn nucleobases are much more common among purines than pyrimidines, and that they favor C2′-endo-like conformations especially among those nucleobases in the intermediate syn conformation. Strikingly, most syn nucleobases participate in tertiary stacking and base-pairing interactions: Inspection of RNA structures revealed that the majority of the syn nucleobases are in regions assigned to function, with many syn nucleobases interacting directly with a ligand or ribozyme active site. These observations suggest that judicious placement of conformationally restricted nucleotides biased into the syn conformation could enhance RNA folding and catalysis. Such changes could also be useful for locking RNAs into functionally competent folds for use in X-ray crystallography and NMR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1775-1787
Number of pages13
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology


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