Predicting loop-helix tertiary structural contacts in RNA pseudoknots

Song Cao, David P. Giedroc, Shi Jie Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations


Tertiary interactions between loops and helical stems play critical roles in the biological function of many RNA pseudoknots. However, quantitative predictions for RNA tertiary interactions remain elusive. Here we report a statistical mechanical model for the prediction of noncanonical loop-stem base-pairing interactions in RNA pseudoknots. Central to the model is the evaluation of the conformational entropy for the pseudoknotted folds with defined loop-stem tertiary structural contacts. We develop an RNA virtual bond-based conformational model (Vfold model), which permits a rigorous computation of the conformational entropy for a given fold that contains loop-stem tertiary contacts. With the entropy parameters predicted from the Vfold model and the energy parameters for the tertiary contacts as inserted parameters, we can then predict the RNA folding thermodynamics, from which we can extract the tertiary contact thermodynamic parameters from theory-experimental comparisons. These comparisons reveal a contact enthalpy (ΔH) of -14 kcal/mol and a contact entropy (ΔS) of -38 cal/mol/K for a protonated C+ ·(G-C) base triple at pH 7.0, and (ΔH = -7 kcal/mol, ΔS = -19 cal/mol/K) for an unprotonated base triple. Tests of the model for a series of pseudoknots show good theory-experiment agreement. Based on the extracted energy parameters for the tertiary structural contacts, the model enables predictions for the structure, stability, and folding pathways for RNA pseudoknots with known or postulated loop-stem tertiary contacts from the nucleotide sequence alone. Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-552
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Folding thermodynamics
  • Rna pseudoknot
  • Rna structure prediction
  • Tertiary interaction

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