Misfolding and associated loss of function are common problems in constructing fusion RNA complexes due to changes in energy landscape and the nearest-neighbor principle. Here we report the incorporation and application of the pRNA-3WJ motif of the phi29 DNA packaging motor into fusion RNA with controllable and predictable folding. The motif included three discontinuous ∼18 nucleotide (nt) fragments, displayed a distinct low folding energy (Shu D et al., Nature Nanotechnology, 2011, 6:658-667), and folded spontaneously into a leading core that enabled the correct folding of other functionalities fused to the RNA complex. Three individual fragments dispersed at any location within the sequence allowed the other RNA functional modules to fold into their original structures with authentic functions, as tested by Hepatitis B virus ribozyme, siRNA, and aptamers for malachite green (MG), spinach, and streptavidin (STV). Only nine complementary nucleotides were present for any two of the three ∼18-nt fragments, but the three 9 bp branches were so powerful that they disrupted other double strands with more than 15 bp within the fusion RNA. This system enabled the production of fusion complexes harboring multiple RNA functionalities with correct folding for potential applications in biotechnology, nanomedicine and nanotechnology. We also applied this system to investigate the principles governing the folding of RNA in vivo and in vitro. Temporal production of RNA sequences during in vivo transcription caused RNA to fold into different conformations that could not be predicted with routine principles derived from in vitro studies.
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