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Soft Interactions with Model Crowders and Non-canonical Interactions with Cellular Proteins Stabilize RNA Folding

Daher, May, Widom, Julia R., Tay, Wendy, Walter, Nils G.
Journal of molecular biology 2018 v.430 no.4 pp. 509-523
RNA folding, RNA-binding proteins, biopolymers, energy transfer, fluorescence, mass spectrometry, models, polyethylene glycol, ribozymes, yeast extract, yeasts
Living cells contain diverse biopolymers, creating a heterogeneous crowding environment, the impact of which on RNA folding is poorly understood. Here, we have used single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer to monitor tertiary structure formation of the hairpin ribozyme as a model to probe the effects of polyethylene glycol and yeast cell extract as crowding agents. As expected, polyethylene glycol stabilizes the docked, catalytically active state of the ribozyme, in part through excluded volume effects; unexpectedly, we found evidence that it additionally displays soft, non-specific interactions with the ribozyme. Yeast extract has a profound effect on folding at protein concentrations 1000-fold lower than found intracellularly, suggesting the dominance of specific interactions over volume exclusion. Gel shift assays and affinity pull-down followed by mass spectrometry identified numerous non-canonical RNA-binding proteins that stabilize ribozyme folding; the apparent chaperoning activity of these ubiquitous proteins significantly compensates for the low-counterion environment of the cell.