Partially edited RNAs are intermediates of RNA editing in plant mitochondria

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RNA editing in flowering plant mitochondria addresses several hundred specific C nucleotides in individual sequence contexts in mRNAs and tRNAs. Many of the in vivo steady state RNAs are edited at some sites but not at others. It is still unclear whether such incompletely edited RNAs can either be completed or are aborted. To learn more about the dynamics of the substrate recognition process, we investigated in vitro RNA editing at a locus in the atp4 mRNA where three editing sites are clustered within four nucleotides. A single cis-element of about 20 nucleotides serves in the recognition of at least two sites. Competition with this sequence element suppresses in vitro editing. Surprisingly, unedited and edited competitors are equally effective. Experiments with partially pre-edited substrates indicate that indeed the editing status of a substrate RNA does not affect the binding affinity of the specificity factor(s). RNA molecules in which all editing sites are substituted by either A or G still compete, confirming that editing site recognition can occur independently of the actual editing site. These results show that incompletely edited mRNAs can be substrates for further rounds of RNA editing, resolving a long debated question.

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