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Open Access Research article

Recognition of essential purines by the U1A protein

Yulia Benitex1 and Anne M Baranger12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemistry, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459, USA

2 University of Illinois, Department of Chemistry, 600 South Mathews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801, USA

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BMC Biochemistry 2007, 8:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-8-22

Published: 2 November 2007



The RNA recognition motif (RRM) is one of the largest families of RNA binding domains. The RRM is modulated so that individual proteins containing RRMs can specifically recognize RNA targets with diverse sequences and structures. Understanding the principles governing this specificity will be important for the rational modification and design of RRM-RNA complexes.


In this paper we have investigated the origins of specificity of the N terminal RRM of the U1A protein for stem loop 2 (SL2) of U1 snRNA by substituting modified bases for essential purines in SL2 RNA. In one series of modified bases, hydrogen bond donors and acceptors were replaced by aliphatic groups to probe the importance of these functional groups to binding. In a second series of modified bases, hydrogen bond donors and acceptors were incorrectly placed on the purine bases to analyze the origins of discrimination between cognate and non-cognate RNA. The results of these experiments show that three different approaches are used by the U1A protein to gain specificity for purines. Specificity for the first base in the loop, A1, is based primarily on discrimination against RNA containing the incorrect base, specificity for the fourth base in the loop, G4, is based largely on recognition of the donors and acceptors of G4, while specificity for the sixth base in the loop, A6, results from a combination of direct recognition of the base and discrimination against incorrectly placed functional groups.


These investigations identify different roles that hydrogen bond donors and acceptors on bases in both cognate and non-cognate RNA play in the specific recognition of RNA by the U1A protein. Taken together with investigations of other RNA-RRM complexes, the results contribute to a general understanding of the origins of RNA-RRM specificity and highlight, in particular, the contribution of steric and electrostatic repulsion to binding specificity.