Chembiochem : a European journal of chemical biology

Sequence elements distal to the ligand binding pocket modulate the efficiency of a synthetic riboswitch.

PMID 24954073


Synthetic riboswitches can serve as sophisticated genetic control devices in synthetic biology, regulating gene expression through direct RNA-ligand interactions. We analyzed a synthetic neomycin riboswitch, which folds into a stem loop structure with an internal loop important for ligand binding and regulation. It is closed by a terminal hexaloop containing a U-turn and a looped-out adenine. We investigated the relationship between sequence, structure, and biological activity in the terminal loop by saturating mutagenesis, ITC, and NMR. Mutants corresponding to the canonical U-turn fold retained biological activity. An improvement of stacking interactions in the U-turn led to an RNA element with slightly enhanced regulatory activity. For the first position of the U-turn motif and the looped out base, sequence-activity relationships that could not initially be explained on the basis of the structure of the aptamer-ligand complex were observed. However, NMR studies of these mutants revealed subtle relationships between structure and dynamics of the aptamer in its free or bound state and biological activity.