Bulge-Induced Bends in RNA: Quantification by Transient Electric Birefringence

Martin Zacharias, Paul J. Hagerman

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116 Scopus citations


Bulges represent one of the most common non-helical elements in RNA, often displaying a strong degree of phylogenetic conservation, both in location and sequence, within larger RNA molecules. Thus, knowledge of the conformation and flexibility of RNA bulges is an important prerequisite for understanding the rules governing the formation of tertiary structure within the larger molecules. In the current investigation, the magnitudes of the bends induced in a 148 base-pair duplex RNA molecule by single, centrally located bulges of varying size (n=1 to 6) and base composition (Anand Unseries) have been determined through the use of transient electric birefringence (TEB). The TEB approach is highly sensitive to the changes in the global shape of RNA (or DNA) helices that accompany the introduction of points of bending or flexibility near the center of the helix. In the current instance, bulge angles deduced from TEB measurements ranged from ˜7° to ˜93°, with the angle increasing with increasingnfor both Anand Unseries. For both Anand Unseries in the absence of Mg2+, the angle increment per added nucleotide varied from ˜20° to ˜8° asnincreased from 1 to 6. These angle increments remained unchanged for the Anseries in the presence of Mg2+; however, the angle increments for the Unseries were reduced by a factor of 2 for all values ofn. Thus the current observations have identified structural transitions in one of the simplest non-helical elements in RNA, transitions that are dependent on both sequence and counterion valence. Finally, the measured bend angles are strongly correlated with the degree of reduction in electrophoretic mobility of bulge-containing RNA helices. The observed correlation was used to obtain a semi-empirical relationship between bend angle and mobility in order that additional angles might be assigned, by interpolation, through the use of gel data alone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-500
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 31 Mar 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA curvature
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • RNA splicing
  • RNA structure
  • RNA-protein interactions


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