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Poly A tail length analysis of in vitro transcribed mRNA by LC-MS

Beverly, Michael, Hagen, Caitlin, Slack, Olga
Analytical and bioanalytical chemistry 2018 v.410 no.6 pp. 1667-1677
arsenic, liquid chromatography, magnetism, mass spectrometry, messenger RNA, models, nucleotides, plasmids, ribonucleases, transcription (genetics)
The 3′-polyadenosine (poly A) tail of in vitro transcribed (IVT) mRNA was studied using liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (LC-MS). Poly A tails were cleaved from the mRNA using ribonuclease T1 followed by isolation with dT magnetic beads. Extracted tails were then analyzed by LC-MS which provided tail length information at single-nucleotide resolution. A 2100-nt mRNA with plasmid-encoded poly A tail lengths of either 27, 64, 100, or 117 nucleotides was used for these studies as enzymatically added poly A tails showed significant length heterogeneity. The number of As observed in the tails closely matched Sanger sequencing results of the DNA template, and even minor plasmid populations with sequence variations were detected. When the plasmid sequence contained a discreet number of poly As in the tail, analysis revealed a distribution that included tails longer than the encoded tail lengths. These observations were consistent with transcriptional slippage of T7 RNAP taking place within a poly A sequence. The type of RNAP did not alter the observed tail distribution, and comparison of T3, T7, and SP6 showed all three RNAPs produced equivalent tail length distributions. The addition of a sequence at the 3′ end of the poly A tail did, however, produce narrower tail length distributions which supports a previously described model of slippage where the 3′ end can be locked in place by having a G or C after the poly nucleotide region. Graphical abstract Determination of mRNA poly A tail length using magnetic beads and LC-MS.