Increasing the length of poly-pyrimidine bulges broadens RNA conformational ensembles with minimal impact on stacking energetics.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats


Citation Stats


Helical elements separated by bulges frequently undergo transitions between unstacked and coaxially stacked conformations during the folding and function of non-coding RNAs. Here, we examine the dynamic properties of poly-pyrimidine bulges of varying length (n = 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7) across a range of Mg2+ concentrations using HIV-1 TAR RNA as a model system and solution NMR spectroscopy. In the absence of Mg2+ (25 mM monovalent salt), helices linked by bulges with n ≥ 3 residues adopt predominantly unstacked conformations (stacked population < 15%) whereas 1-bulge and 2-bulge motifs adopt predominantly stacked conformations (stacked population > 74%). The 2-bulge motif is biased toward linear conformations and increasing the bulge length leads to broader inter-helical distributions and structures that are on average more kinked. In the presence of 3 mM Mg2+, the helices predominantly coaxially stack (stacked population > 84%), regardless of bulge length, and the midpoint for the Mg2+-dependent stacking transition does not vary substantially (within 3-fold) with bulge length. In the absence of Mg2+, the difference between the free energy of inter-helical coaxial stacking across the bulge variants is estimated to be ≈2.9 kcal/mol, based on an NMR chemical shift mapping approach, with stacking being more energetically disfavored for the longer bulges. This difference decreases to ≈0.4 kcal/mol in the presence of 3 mM Mg2+ NMR residual dipolar coupling and resonance intensity data show increased dynamics in the stacked state with increasing bulge length in the presence of Mg2+ We propose that Mg2+ helps to neutralize the growing electrostatic repulsion in the stacked state with increasing bulge length thereby increasing the number of coaxial conformations that are sampled. Energetically compensated inter-helical stacking dynamics may help to maximize the conformational adaptability of RNA and allow a wide range of conformations to be optimally stabilized by proteins and ligands.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Merriman, Dawn K, Jiayi Yuan, Honglue Shi, Ananya Majumdar, Daniel Herschlag and Hashim M Al-Hashimi (2018). Increasing the length of poly-pyrimidine bulges broadens RNA conformational ensembles with minimal impact on stacking energetics. RNA (New York, N.Y.). pp. rna.066258.118–rna.066258.118. 10.1261/rna.066258.118 Retrieved from

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



Hashim Al-Hashimi

Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biochemistry

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.