Kinetic Intermediates Trapped by Native Interactions in RNA Folding

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In the magnesium ion-dependent folding of the Tetrahymena ribozyme, a kinetic intermediate accumulates in which the P4-P6 domain is formed, but the P3-P7 domain is not. The kinetic barriers to P3-P7 formation were investigated with the use of in vitro selection to identify mutant RNA molecules in which the folding rate of the P3-P7 domain was increased. The critical mutations disrupt native tertiary interactions within the P4-P6 domain and increase the rate of P3-P7 formation by destabilizing a kinetically trapped intermediate. Hence, kinetic traps stabilized by native interactions, and not simply by mispaired nonnative structures, can present a substantial barrier to RNA folding.

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