Journal of the American Chemical Society

Mg(2+) shifts ligand-mediated folding of a riboswitch from induced-fit to conformational selection.

PMID 26471732


Bacterial riboswitches couple small-molecule ligand binding to RNA conformational changes that widely regulate gene expression, rendering them potential targets for antibiotic intervention. Despite structural insights, the ligand-mediated folding mechanisms of riboswitches are still poorly understood. Using single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET), we have investigated the folding mechanism of an H-type pseudoknotted preQ1 riboswitch in dependence of Mg(2+) and three ligands of distinct affinities. We show that, in the absence of Mg(2+), both weakly and strongly bound ligands promote pseudoknot docking through an induced-fit mechanism. By contrast, addition of as low as 10 μM Mg(2+) generally shifts docking toward conformational selection by stabilizing a folded-like conformation prior to ligand binding. Supporting evidence from transition-state analysis further highlights the particular importance of stacking interactions during induced-fit and of specific hydrogen bonds during conformational selection. Our mechanistic dissection provides unprecedented insights into the intricate synergy between ligand- and Mg(2+)-mediated RNA folding.