RNA folding and the origins of catalytic activity in the hairpin ribozyme

Timothy J. Wilson, Michelle Nahas, Lisa Araki, Shinya Harusawa, Taekjip Ha, David M.J. Lilley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The nucleolytic ribozymes catalyse site-specific phosphodiester cleavage and ligation transesterification reactions in RNA. The hairpin ribozyme folds to generate an intimate loop-loop interaction to create the local environment in which catalysis can proceed. We have studied the ion-induced folding using single-molecule FRET experiments, showing that the four-way helical junction accelerates the folding 500-fold by introducing a discrete intermediate that juxtaposes the loops. Using FRET we can observe individual hairpin ribozyme molecules as they undergo multiple cycles of cleavage and ligation, and measure the rates of the internal reactions, free of uncertainties in the contributions of docking and substrate dissociation processes. On average, the cleaved ribozyme undergoes several docking-undocking events before a ligation reaction occurs. On the basis of these experiments, we have explored the role of the nucleobases G8 and A38 in the catalysis. Both cleavage and ligation reactions are pH dependent, corresponding to the titration of a group with pKa = 6.2. We have used a novel ribonucleoside in which these bases are replaced by imidazole to investigate the role of acid-base catalysis in this ribozyme. We observe significant rates of cleavage and ligation, and a bell-shaped pH dependence for both.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-14
Number of pages7
JournalBlood Cells, Molecules, and Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Mechanism
  • RNA catalysis
  • Single molecule

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology


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