Structural Basis of RNA Recognition by Mycobacterium tuberculosis MazF Homologues

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Yen, Tien-Jui


Brennan, Richard G

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The MazEF toxin-antitoxin (TA) system consists of the antitoxin MazE and the toxin MazF. MazF is a sequence-specific endoribonuclease that upon activation causes cellular growth arrest and increass the level of persisters. Moreover, MazF-induced cells are in a quasi-dormant state that cells remain metabolically active while stop dividing. The quasi-dormancy is similar to the nonreplicating state of M. tuberculosis during latent tuberculosis, thus suggesting the role of mazEF in M. tuberculosis dormancy and persistence. M. tuberculosis has nine mazEF TA modules, each with different RNA cleavage specificities and implicated in selective gene expression during stress conditions. To date only the Bacillus subtilis MazF-RNA complex structure has been determined. As M. tuberculosis MazF homologues recognize distinct RNA sequences, their molecular mechanisms of substrate specificity remain unclear. By taking advantage of X-ray crystallography, we have determined structures of two M. tuberculosis MazF-RNA complexes, MazF-mt1 (Rv2801c) and MazF-mt3 (Rv1991c) in complex with an uncleavable RNA substrate. These structures have provided the molecular basis of sequence-specific RNA recognition and cleavage by MazF toxins.

Both MazF-mt1-RNA and MazF-mt3-RNA complexes showed similar structural organization with one molecule of RNA bound to a MazF-mt1 or MazF-mt3 dimer and occupying the same pocket within the MazF dimer interface. Similar to B. subtilis MazF-RNA complex, MazF-mt1 and MazF-mt3 displayed a conserved active site architecture, where two highly conserved residues, Arg and Thr, form hydrogen bonds with the scissile phosphate group in the cleavage site of the bound RNA. The MazF-mt1-RNA complex also showed specific interactions with its three-base RNA recognition element. Compared with the B. subtilis MazF-RNA complex, our structures showed that residues involved in sequence-specific recognition of target RNA vary between the MazF homologues, therefore explaining the molecular basis for their different RNA recognition sequences. In addition, local conformational changes of the loops in the RNA binding site of MazF-mt1 appear to play a role in MazF targeting different RNA lengths and sequences. In contrast, the MazF-mt3-RNA complex is in a non-optimal RNA binding state with a symmetry-related MazF-mt3 molecule found to make interactions with the bound RNA in the crystal. The crystal-packing interactions were further examined by isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) studies on selected MazF-mt3 mutants. Our attempts to utilize a MazF-mt3 mutant bearing mutations involved in crystal contacts all crystallized with few nucleotides, which are still found to interact with a symmetry mate. However, these different crystal forms revealed the conformational flexibility of loops in the RNA binding interface of MazF-mt3, suggesting their role in RNA binding and recognition, which will require further studies on additional MazF-mt3-RNA complex interactions.

In conclusion, the structures of the MazF-mt1-RNA and MazF-mt3-RNA complexes provide the first structural information on any M. tuberculosis MazF homologues. Supplemented with structure-guided mutational studies on MazF toxicity in vivo, this study has addressed the structural basis of different RNA cleavage specificities among MazF homologues. Our work will guide future studies on the function of other M. tuberculosis MazF and MazE-MazF homologues, and will help delineate their physiological roles in M. tuberculosis stress responses and pathogenesis.






Yen, Tien-Jui (2016). Structural Basis of RNA Recognition by Mycobacterium tuberculosis MazF Homologues. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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