Members of the muscleblind family of RNA binding proteins found in Drosophila and mammals are key players in both the human disease myotonic dystrophy and the regulation of alternative splicing. Recently, the mammalian muscleblind-like protein, MBNL1, has been shown to have interesting RNA binding properties with both endogenous and disease-related RNA targets. Here we report the characterization of RNA binding properties of the Drosophila muscleblind protein Mbl. Mutagenesis of double-stranded CUG repeats demonstrated that Mbl requires pyrimidine-pyrimidine mismatches for binding and that the identity and location of the C-G and G-C base pairs within the repeats are essential for Mbl binding. Systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment (SELEX) was used to identify RNA sequences that bind Mbl with much higher affinity than CUG repeats. The RNA sequences identified by SELEX are structured and contain a five-nucleotide consensus sequence of 5'-AGUCU-3'. RNase footprinting of one of the SELEX RNA sequences with Mbl showed that Mbl binds both double-stranded and single-stranded regions of the RNA. Three guanosines show the strongest footprint in the presence of Mbl; mutation of any of these three guanosines eliminates Mbl binding. It was also found that Mbl specifically bound a human MBNL1 RNA target, demonstrating the conservation of the muscleblind proteins in recognizing RNA targets. Our results reveal that Mbl recognizes complex RNA secondary structures.
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