RNAs fold into defined tertiary structures to function in critical biological processes. While quantitative models can predict RNA secondary structure stability, we are still unable to predict the thermodynamic stability of RNA tertiary structure. Here, we probe conformational preferences of diverse RNA two-way junctions to develop a predictive model for the formation of RNA tertiary structure. We quantitatively measured tertiary assembly energetics of >1,000 of RNA junctions inserted in multiple structural scaffolds to generate a “thermodynamic fingerprint” for each junction. Thermodynamic fingerprints enabled comparison of junction conformational preferences, revealing principles for how sequence influences 3-dimensional conformations. Utilizing fingerprints of junctions with known crystal structures, we generated ensembles for related junctions that predicted their thermodynamic effects on assembly formation. This work reveals sequence-structure-energetic relationships in RNA, demonstrates the capacity for diverse compensation strategies within tertiary structures, and provides a path to quantitative modeling of RNA folding energetics based on “ensemble modularity.” Characterizing the thermodynamic fingerprints of >1,000 RNA junctions reveals principles for how RNA sequence affects tertiary assembly energetics, highlighting a path toward tertiary folding prediction by integrating static structural and dynamic energetic information.
Denny, S. K., Bisaria, N., Yesselman, J. D., Das, R., Herschlag, D., & Greenleaf, W. J. (2018). High-Throughput Investigation of Diverse Junction Elements in RNA Tertiary Folding. Cell, 174(2), 377-390.e20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2018.05.038