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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Computational identification of biologically functional non-hairpin GC-helices in human Argonaute mRNA

Simon Dornseifer12 and Georg Sczakiel1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Molekulare Medizin, Center for Structural and Cell Biology in Medicine (CSCM), Universität zu Lübeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, Lübeck, D-23538, Germany

2 Graduate School for Computing in Medicine and Life Sciences (GS-CMLS), Universität zu Lübeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, Lübeck, D-23538, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:122  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-122

Published: 10 April 2013



Perfectly formed duplex elements in RNA occur within folding units, often as a part of hairpin motifs which can be reliably predicted by various RNA folding algorithms. Double helices with consecutive Watson-Crick base-pairing may also be formed between distant RNA segments thereby facilitating long-range interactions of long-chain RNA that may be biologically functional. Here we addressed the potential formation of RNA duplex motifs by long-range RNA-RNA interactions of distantly located matching sequence elements of a single long-chain RNA.


We generated a Python-based software tool that identifies consecutive RNA duplex elements at any given length and nucleotide content formed by distant sequences. The software tool, dubbed RNAslider, is built on the theoretical RNA structure prediction algorithm Mfold. Source code and sample data sets are available on demand. We found that a small ratio of human genes including the Argonaute (Ago)-like gene family encode mRNAs containing highly GC-rich non-hairpin duplex elements (GC-helix) of equal to or more than 8 base pairs in length and we provide experimental evidence for their biological significance.


GC-helices are observed preferentially within the 5-region of mRNAs in an evolutionarily conserved fashion indicating their potential biological role. This view is supported experimentally by post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression of a fusion transcript containing 5-sequences of human mRNAAgo2 harbouring GC-helices and down-stream coding sequences of Renilla luciferase.

GC-rich helix; Non-hairpin; RNA structure; Gene expression; Human argonaute