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Research Articles

* indicates equal authorship      § As corresponding author

Progress in 7SK ribonucleoprotein structural biology

Camara, MB, Sobeh AM, Eichhorn CD.    Front. Mol. Biosci., 2023, Sec. Genome Organization and Dynamics, Volume 10 - 2023 |; PMID: 37051324; PMCID: PMC10083321; DOI: 10.3389/fmolb.2023.1154622

The 7SK ribonucleoprotein (RNP) is a dynamic and multifunctional regulator of RNA Polymerase II (RNAPII) transcription in metazoa. Comprised of the non-coding 7SK RNA, core proteins, and numerous accessory proteins, the most well-known 7SK RNP function is the sequestration and inactivation of the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb). More recently, 7SK RNP has been shown to regulate RNAPII transcription through P-TEFb-independent pathways. Due to its fundamental role in cellular function, dysregulation has been linked with human diseases including cancers, heart disease, developmental disorders, and viral infection. Significant advances in 7SK RNP structural biology have improved our understanding of 7SK RNP assembly and function. Here, we review progress in understanding the structural basis of 7SK RNA folding, biogenesis, and RNP assembly.


C-terminal determinants for RNA binding motif 7 protein stability and RNA recognition

Sobeh AM, Eichhorn CD.    Biophys Chem. 2023, 292:106928. doi: 10.1016/j.bpc.2022.106928. Epub 2022 Nov 8. PMID: 36427363; PMCID: PMC9768861.

The 7SK ribonucleoprotein (RNP) is a critical regulator of eukaryotic transcription. Recently, RNA binding motif 7 (RBM7) containing an RNA recognition motif (RRM) was reported to associate with 7SK RNA and core 7SK RNP protein components in response to DNA damage. However, little is known about the mode of RBM7-7SK RNA recognition. Here, we found that RRM constructs containing extended C-termini have increased solubility compared to a minimal RRM construct, although these constructs aggregate in a temperature and concentration-dependent manner. Using solution NMR dynamics experiments, we identified additional structural features observed previously in crystal but not in solution structures. To identify potential RBM7-7SK RNA binding sites, we analyzed deposited data from in cellulo crosslinking experiments and found that RBM7 primarily crosslinks to the distal region of 7SK stem-loop 3 (SL3). Electrophoretic mobility shift assays and NMR chemical shift perturbation experiments showed weak binding to 7SK SL3 constructs in vitro. Together, these results provide new insights into RBM7 RRM folding and recognition of 7SK RNA.


Structure of S. pombe telomerase protein Pof8 C-terminal domain is an xRRM conserved among LARP7 proteins

Basu R*, Eichhorn CD*, Cheng R, Peterson RD, Feigon J. RNA Biol. 2021 Aug;18(8):1181-1192. doi: 10.1080/15476286.2020.1836891. Epub 2020 Nov 1. PMID: 33131423; PMCID: PMC8244769.

La related proteins group 7 (LARP7) are a class of RNA chaperones that bind the 3′ ends of RNA and are constitutively associated with their specific target RNAs. In metazoa, Larp7 binds to the long non-coding 7SK RNA as a core component of the 7SK RNP, a major regulator of eukaryotic transcription. In ciliates, a LARP7 protein (p65 in Tetrahymena) is a core component of telomerase, an essential ribonucleoprotein complex that maintains the DNA length at eukaryotic chromosome ends. p65 is important for the ordered assembly of telomerase RNA (TER) with telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT). Although a LARP7 as a telomerase holoenzyme component was initially thought to be specific to ciliate telomerases, Schizosaccharomyces pombe Pof8 was recently identified as a LARP7 protein and a core component of fission yeast telomerase essential for biogenesis. There is also evidence that human Larp7 associates with telomerase. LARP7 proteins have conserved N-terminal La motif and RRM1 (La module) and C-terminal RRM2 with specific RNA substrate recognition attributed to RRM2, first structurally characterized in p65 as an atypical RRM named xRRM. Here we present the X-ray crystal structure and NMR studies of S. pombe Pof8 RRM2. Sequence and structure comparison of Pof8 RRM2 to p65 and hLarp7 xRRMs reveals conserved features for RNA binding with the main variability in the length of the non-canonical helix α3. This study shows that Pof8 has conserved xRRM features, providing insight into TER recognition and the defining characteristics of the xRRM.

Yang Y*, Eichhorn CD*, Wang Y, Cascio D, Feigon J. Nat Chem Biol. 2019 Feb;15(2):132-140. doi: 10.1038/s41589-018-0188-z. Epub 2018 Dec 17.

Among RNA 5'-cap structures, γ-phosphate monomethylation is unique to a small subset of noncoding RNAs, 7SK and U6 in humans. 7SK is capped by methylphosphate capping enzyme (MePCE), which has a second nonenzymatic role as a core component of the 7SK ribonuclear protein (RNP), an essential regulator of RNA transcription. We report 2.0- and 2.1-Å X-ray crystal structures of the human MePCE methyltransferase domain bound to S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH) and uncapped or capped 7SK substrates, respectively. 7SK recognition is achieved by protein contacts to a 5'-hairpin-single-stranded RNA region, thus explaining MePCE's specificity for 7SK and U6. The structures reveal SAH and product RNA in a near-transition-state geometry. Unexpectedly, binding experiments showed that MePCE has higher affinity for capped versus uncapped 7SK, and kinetic data support a model of slow product release. This work reveals the molecular mechanism of methyl transfer and 7SK retention by MePCE for subsequent assembly of 7SK RNP.

Eichhorn CD, Yang Y, Repeta L, Feigon J. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jul 10;115(28):E6457-E6466. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1806276115. Epub 2018 Jun 26.

The La and the La-related protein (LARP) superfamily is a diverse class of RNA binding proteins involved in RNA processing, folding, and function. Larp7 binds to the abundant long noncoding 7SK RNA and is required for 7SK ribonucleoprotein (RNP) assembly and function. The 7SK RNP sequesters a pool of the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb) in an inactive state; on release, P-TEFb phosphorylates RNA Polymerase II to stimulate transcription elongation. Despite its essential role in transcription, limited structural information is available for the 7SK RNP, particularly for protein-RNA interactions. Larp7 contains an N-terminal La module that binds UUU-3'OH and a C-terminal atypical RNA recognition motif (xRRM) required for specific binding to 7SK and P-TEFb assembly. Deletion of the xRRM is linked to gastric cancer in humans. We report the 2.2-Å X-ray crystal structure of the human La-related protein group 7 (hLarp7) xRRM bound to the 7SK stem-loop 4, revealing a unique binding interface. Contributions of observed interactions to binding affinity were investigated by mutagenesis and isothermal titration calorimetry. NMR 13C spin relaxation data and comparison of free xRRM, RNA, and xRRM-RNA structures show that the xRRM is preordered to bind a flexible loop 4. Combining structures of the hLarp7 La module and the xRRM-7SK complex presented here, we propose a structural model for Larp7 binding to the 7SK 3' end and mechanism for 7SK RNP assembly. This work provides insight into how this domain contributes to 7SK recognition and assembly of the core 7SK RNP.

Eichhorn CD, Chug R, Feigon J. Nucleic Acids Res. 2016 Nov 16;44(20):9977-9989. Epub 2016 Sep 26.

The 7SK small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) sequesters and inactivates the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb), an essential eukaryotic mRNA transcription factor. The human La-related protein group 7 (hLARP7) is a constitutive component of the 7SK snRNP and localizes to the 3' terminus of the 7SK long noncoding RNA. hLARP7, and in particular its C-terminal domain (CTD), is essential for 7SK RNA stability and assembly with P-TEFb. The hLARP7 N-terminal La module binds and protects the 3' end from degradation, but the structural and functional role of its CTD is unclear. We report the solution NMR structure of the hLARP7 CTD and show that this domain contains an xRRM, a class of atypical RRM first identified in the Tetrahymena thermophila telomerase LARP7 protein p65. The xRRM binds the 3' end of 7SK RNA at the top of stem-loop 4 (SL4) and interacts with both unpaired and base-paired nucleotides. This study confirms that the xRRM is general to the LARP7 family of proteins and defines the binding site for hLARP7 on the 7SK RNA, providing insight into function.

Eichhorn CD, Al-Hashimi HM. RNA. 2014 Jun;20(6):782-91. doi: 10.1261/rna.043711.113. Epub 2014 Apr 17.

Many regulatory RNAs contain long single strands (ssRNA) that adjoin secondary structural elements. Here, we use NMR spectroscopy to study the dynamic properties of a 12-nucleotide (nt) ssRNA tail derived from the prequeuosine riboswitch linked to the 3' end of a 48-nt hairpin. Analysis of chemical shifts, NOE connectivity, (13)C spin relaxation, and residual dipolar coupling data suggests that the first two residues (A25 and U26) in the ssRNA tail stack onto the adjacent helix and assume an ordered conformation. The following U26-A27 step marks the beginning of an A6-tract and forms an acute pivot point for substantial motions within the tail, which increase toward the terminal end. Despite substantial internal motions, the ssRNA tail adopts, on average, an A-form helical conformation that is coaxial with the helix. Our results reveal a surprising degree of structural and dynamic complexity at the ssRNA-helix junction, which involves a fine balance between order and disorder that may facilitate efficient pseudoknot formation on ligand recognition.

Kang M, Eichhorn CD, Feigon J.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Feb 11;111(6):E663-71. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1400126111. Epub 2014 Jan 27.

Prequeuosine (preQ1) riboswitches are RNA regulatory elements located in the 5' UTR of genes involved in the biosynthesis and transport of preQ1, a precursor of the modified base queuosine universally found in four tRNAs. The preQ1 class II (preQ1-II) riboswitch regulates preQ1 biosynthesis at the translational level. We present the solution NMR structure and conformational dynamics of the 59 nucleotide Streptococcus pneumoniae preQ1-II riboswitch bound to preQ1. Unlike in the preQ1 class I (preQ1-I) riboswitch, divalent cations are required for high-affinity binding. The solution structure is an unusual H-type pseudoknot featuring a P4 hairpin embedded in loop 3, which forms a three-way junction with the other two stems. (13)C relaxation and residual dipolar coupling experiments revealed interhelical flexibility of P4. We found that the P4 helix and flanking adenine residues play crucial and unexpected roles in controlling pseudoknot formation and, in turn, sequestering the Shine-Dalgarno sequence. Aided by divalent cations, P4 is poised to act as a "screw cap" on preQ1 recognition to block ligand exit and stabilize the binding pocket. Comparison of preQ1-I and preQ1-II riboswitch structures reveals that whereas both form H-type pseudoknots and recognize preQ1 using one A, C, or U nucleotide from each of three loops, these nucleotides interact with preQ1 differently, with preQ1 inserting into different grooves. Our studies show that the preQ1-II riboswitch uses an unusual mechanism to harness exquisite control over queuosine metabolism.

Suddala KC, Rinaldi AJ, Feng J, Mustoe AM, Eichhorn CD, Liberman JA, Wedekind JE, Al-Hashimi HM, Brooks CL 3rd, Walter NG. Nucleic Acids Res. 2013 Dec;41(22):10462-75. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkt798. Epub 2013 Sep 3.

Riboswitches are structural elements in the 5' untranslated regions of many bacterial messenger RNAs that regulate gene expression in response to changing metabolite concentrations by inhibition of either transcription or translation initiation. The preQ1 (7-aminomethyl-7-deazaguanine) riboswitch family comprises some of the smallest metabolite sensing RNAs found in nature. Once ligand-bound, the transcriptional Bacillus subtilis and translational Thermoanaerobacter tengcongensis preQ1 riboswitch aptamers are structurally similar RNA pseudoknots; yet, prior structural studies have characterized their ligand-free conformations as largely unfolded and folded, respectively. In contrast, through single molecule observation, we now show that, at near-physiological Mg(2+) concentration and pH, both ligand-free aptamers adopt similar pre-folded state ensembles that differ in their ligand-mediated folding. Structure-based Gō-model simulations of the two aptamers suggest that the ligand binds late (Bacillus subtilis) and early (Thermoanaerobacter tengcongensis) relative to pseudoknot folding, leading to the proposal that the principal distinction between the two riboswitches lies in their relative tendencies to fold via mechanisms of conformational selection and induced fit, respectively. These mechanistic insights are put to the test by rationally designing a single nucleotide swap distal from the ligand binding pocket that we find to predictably control the aptamers' pre-folded states and their ligand binding affinities.

Eichhorn CD, Feng J, Suddala KC, Walter NG, Brooks CL 3rd, Al-Hashimi HM.  Nucleic Acids Res. 2012 Feb;40(3):1345-55. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkr833. Epub 2011 Oct 18.

Single-stranded RNAs (ssRNAs) are ubiquitous RNA elements that serve diverse functional roles. Much of our understanding of ssRNA conformational behavior is limited to structures in which ssRNA directly engages in tertiary interactions or is recognized by proteins. Little is known about the structural and dynamic behavior of free ssRNAs at atomic resolution. Here, we report the collaborative application of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and replica exchange molecular dynamics (REMD) simulations to characterize the 12 nt ssRNA tail derived from the prequeuosine riboswitch. NMR carbon spin relaxation data and residual dipolar coupling measurements reveal a flexible yet stacked core adopting an A-form-like conformation, with the level of order decreasing toward the terminal ends. An A-to-C mutation within the polyadenine tract alters the observed dynamics consistent with the introduction of a dynamic kink. Pre-ordering of the tail may increase the efficacy of ligand binding above that achieved by a random-coil ssRNA. The REMD simulations recapitulate important trends in the NMR data, but suggest more internal motions than inferred from the NMR analysis. Our study unmasks a previously unappreciated level of complexity in ssRNA, which we believe will also serve as an excellent model system for testing and developing computational force fields.

Reviews and Book Chapters

Camara MB, Sobeh AM, Eichhorn CD. Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, Sec: Genome Organization and Dynamics. doi: 

The 7SK ribonucleoprotein (RNP) is a dynamic and multifunctional regulator of RNA Polymerase II (RNAPII) transcription in metazoa. Comprised of the noncoding 7SK RNA, core proteins, and numerous accessory proteins, the most wellknown 7SK RNP function is the sequestration and inactivation of the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb). More recently, 7SK RNP has been shown to regulate RNAPII transcription through P-TEFb-independent pathways. Due to its fundamental role in cellular function, dysregulation has been linked with human diseases including cancers, heart disease, developmental disorders, and viral infection. Significant advances in 7SK RNP structural biology have improved our understanding of 7SK RNP assembly and function. Here, we review progress in understanding the structural basis of 7SK RNA folding, biogenesis, and RNP assembly.

Eichhorn CD*, Kang M*, Feigon J. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Oct;1839(10):939-950. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagrm.2014.04.019. Epub 2014 May 4.

PreQ1 riboswitches help regulate the biosynthesis and transport of preQ1 (7-aminomethyl-7-deazaguanine), a precursor of the hypermodified guanine nucleotide queuosine (Q), in a number of Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, and Fusobacteria. Queuosine is almost universally found at the wobble position of the anticodon in asparaginyl, tyrosyl, histidyl and aspartyl tRNAs, where it contributes to translational fidelity. Two classes of preQ1 riboswitches have been identified (preQ1-I and preQ1-II), and structures of examples from both classes have been determined. Both classes form H-type pseudoknots upon preQ1 binding, each of which has distinct unusual features and modes of preQ1 recognition. These features include an unusually long loop 2 in preQ1-I pseudoknots and an embedded hairpin in loop 3 in preQ1-II pseudoknots. PreQ1-I riboswitches are also notable for their unusually small aptamer domain, which has been extensively investigated by NMR, X-ray crystallography, FRET, and other biophysical methods. Here we review the discovery, structural biology, ligand specificity, cation interactions, folding, dynamics, and applications to biotechnology of preQ1 riboswitches. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Riboswitches.

Characterising RNA Dynamics using NMR Residual Dipolar Couplings

Eichhorn CD, Yang S. Al-Hashimi HM. Recent Developments in Biomolecular NMR. Ed. Clore, M. and Potts, J. London: Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing (2012).

Among several NMR techniques that have been developed and applied to study RNA dynamics, the measurement of residual dipolar couplings (RDCs) in partially aligned systems is providing new insights into previously poorly understood aspects of RNA dynamics behavior. There are several factors that make RDCs attractive probes of RNA dynamics. First, RDCs can be measured in great abundance between nuclei in base, sugar and backbone moieties without some of the complications that plague measure- ments of NMR spin relaxation and relaxation dispersion data. Second, the timescale sensitivity of RDCs to internal motions extends from picoseconds to milliseconds and uniquely allows insights into dynamics occurring at nanosecond to microsecond timescales that are difficult to access by NMR spin-relaxation methods. Finally, by changing the alignment properties of a target RNA molecule, more than one RDC data set can be measured, providing the basis for mapping out complex 3D motional choreographies with high spatial resolution. Although RDCs continue to be used primarily as a rich source of long-range orientational constraints for improving the quality of structures determined by solution-state NMR, a growing number of studies are exploiting the unique dynamics sensitivity of RDCs, Here, we review NMR RDC methods for studying RNA dynamics and highlight some of the new insights that have been obtained.

Bothe JR, Nikolova EN, Eichhorn CD, Chugh J, Hansen AL, Al-Hashimi HM. 2011 Oct 28;8(11):919-31. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.1735.

Many recently discovered noncoding RNAs do not fold into a single native conformation but sample many different conformations along their free-energy landscape to carry out their biological function. Here we review solution-state NMR techniques that measure the structural, kinetic and thermodynamic characteristics of RNA motions spanning picosecond to second timescales at atomic resolution, allowing unprecedented insights into the RNA dynamic structure landscape. From these studies a basic description of the RNA dynamic structure landscape is emerging, bringing new insights into how RNA structures change to carry out their function as well as applications in RNA-targeted drug discovery and RNA bioengineering.

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