Structural Constraints Identified with Covariation Analysis in Ribosomal RNA




Shang, Lei
Xu, Weijia
Ozer, Stuart
Gutell, Robin R.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Public Library of Science


"Covariation analysis is used to identify those positions with similar patterns of sequence variation in an alignment of RNA sequences. These constraints on the evolution of two positions are usually associated with a base pair in a helix. While mutual information (MI) has been used to accurately predict an RNA secondary structure and a few of its tertiary interactions, early studies revealed that phylogenetic event counting methods are more sensitive and provide extra confidence in the prediction of base pairs. We developed a novel and powerful phylogenetic events counting method (PEC) for quantifying positional covariation with the Gutell lab’s new RNA Comparative Analysis Database (rCAD). The PEC and MI-based methods each identify unique base pairs, and jointly identify many other base pairs. In total, both methods in combination with an N-best and helix-extension strategy identify the maximal number of base pairs. While covariation methods have effectively and accurately predicted RNAs secondary structure, only a few tertiary structure base pairs have been identified. Analysis presented herein and at the Gutell lab’s Comparative RNA Web (CRW) Site reveal that the majority of these latter base pairs do not covary with one another. However, covariation analysis does reveal a weaker although significant covariation between sets of nucleotides that are in proximity in the three-dimensional RNA structure. This reveals that covariation analysis identifies other types of structural constraints beyond the two nucleotides that form a base pair.


Lei Shang is with UT Austin; Robin R. Gutell is with UT Austin; Weijia Xu is with UT Austin; Stuart Ozer is with Microsoft Corporation.

LCSH Subject Headings


Shang L, Xu W, Ozer S, Gutell RR (2012) Structural Constraints Identified with Covariation Analysis in Ribosomal RNA. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39383. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039383