Structurally conserved five nucleotide bulge determines the overall topology of the core domain of human telomerase RNA

Qi Zhang, Nak Kyoon Kim, Robert D. Peterson, Zhonghua Wang, Juli Feigon

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52 Scopus citations


Telomerase is a unique ribonucleoprotein complex that catalyzes the addition of telomeric DNA repeats onto the 3' ends of linear chromosomes. All vertebrate telomerase RNAs contain a catalytically essential core domain that includes the template and a pseudoknot with extended helical subdomains. Within these helical regions is an asymmetric 5-nt internal bulge loop (J2a/b) flanked by helices (P2a and P2b) that is highly conserved in its location but not sequence. NMR structure determination reveals that J2a/b forms a defined S-shape and creates an ∼90° bend with a surprisingly low twist (∼10°) between the flanking helices. A search of RNA structures revealed only one other example of a 5-nt bulge, from hepatitis C virus internal ribosome entry site, with a different sequence but the same structure. J2a/b is intrinsically flexible but the interhelical motions across the loop are remarkably restricted. Nucleotide substitutions in J2a/b that affect the bend angle, direction, and interhelical dynamics are correlated with telomerase activity. Based on the structures of P2ab (J2a/b and flanking helices), the conserved region of the pseudoknot (P2b/P3, previously determined) and the remaining helical segment (P2a.1-J2a.1 refined using residual dipolar couplings and the modeling program MC-Sym) we have calculated an NMR-based model of the fulllength pseudoknot. The model and dynamics analysis show that J2a/b serves as a dominant structural and dynamical element in defining the overall topology of the core domain, and suggest that interhelical motions in P2ab facilitate nucleotide addition along the template and template translocation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18761-18768
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Nov 2 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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