Mechanistic studies of CYT-19 and related DExD/H-box proteins on folding of the Tetrahymena group I ribozyme
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DExD/H-box proteins are a diverse class of proteins that are implicated in RNA and RNP remodeling. They have sequence homology to DNA helicases and share conserved ATPase domains, suggesting that they use the energy of ATP binding and hydrolysis to mediate conformational rearrangements in RNAs. In the past, the action of DExD/H-box proteins has been characterized primarily on simple model substrates such as small RNA duplexes. It is not known how DExD/H-box proteins manipulate structured RNA, what determines target specificity and what molecular events follow their action. Here, using the well-characterized Tetrahymena group I intron ribozyme, I performed kinetic and thermodynamic studies to understand the mechanism of CYT-19 and related DExD/Hbox proteins. CYT-19 has been shown previously to facilitate the folding of several group I and group II introns. I demonstrated that CYT-19 acts as a chaperone, accelerating the re-folding of a long-lived misfolded species of the Tetrahymena group I ribozyme to its native state. Further characterization of this reaction gave insights into how CYT-19 achieves this action; CYT-19 partially unfolds the misfolded ribozyme and allows it to fold again along the same pathway that exists in the absence of CYT-19. In addition to acting on the misfolded state, CYT-19 also acts on the native state, but this action is largely obscured under stabilizing conditions for the native state because the action is inefficient under such conditions. However, under conditions where the native state is destabilized, the native ribozyme was indeed shown to be partially unfolded by CYT-19. By acting on either species, CYT-19 sets up a steady state of unfolding, and the distribution is shifted from equilibrium to kinetic control, increasing the relative populations of conformations that are kinetically preferred during folding. The efficiency of action seems to correlate with the stability of the ribozyme. These activities are not restricted to CYT-19; the DExD/H-box proteins Mss116p and Ded1 were demonstrated to possess similar activities. Together, these studies give important insights into the mechanisms of action for this ubiquitous class of proteins and have implications for all structured RNAs in cells.