Effect of Loop Composition on the Stability and Folding Kinetics of RNA Hairpins with Large Loops

Artem V. Melnykov, Rajesh K. Nayak, Kathleen B. Hall, Alan Van Orden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


(Figure Presented). RNA hairpins are ubiquitous structural elements in biological RNAs, where they have the potential to regulate RNA folding and interactions with other molecules. There are established methods for predicting the thermodynamic stability of an RNA hairpin, but there are still relatively few detailed examinations of the kinetics of folding. Nonetheless, several recent studies indicate that hairpin folding does not proceed via a simple two-state model. Here, we monitor fluorescence from hairpins constructed as molecular beacons in ensemble, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, and stopped-flow experiments to describe the folding of RNA hairpins with long (15 nucleotide) loops. Our results show that folding of these hairpins occurs through more than two states and that the mechanism of folding includes a fast intermediate phase observed on the tens of microseconds time scale and a slow phase, attributed to formation of the native folded hairpin loop and stem, observed on the milliseconds time scale. The composition of the RNA loop determines the time scale of intermediate and native folded states. Hairpins with a polyuracil loop sequence exhibit slower relaxation of the intermediate state and faster relaxation of the native folded state when compared to that of hairpins with cytosine or adenine in the loop. We hypothesize this composition dependence could be attributed to nucleobase stacking in cytosine and adenine containing regions of the loop, which would be absent in hairpins containing polyuracil loops. Such base stacking could destabilize the intermediate folds, thereby speeding the relaxation of the intermediate relative to similar sized hairpins with no base stacking in the loop. Likewise, the lower intermediate stability could prolong the relaxation of the native folded state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1886-1896
Number of pages11
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 17 2015


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