Ribonuclease P (RNase P) is the ribonucleoprotein endonuclease that processes the 5' ends of precursor tRNAs. Bacterial and eukaryal RNase P RNAs had the same primordial ancestor; however, they were molded differently by evolution. RNase P RNAs of eukaryotes, in contrast to bacterial RNAs, are not catalytically active in vitro without proteins. By comparing the bacterial and eukaryal RNAs, we can begin to understand the transitions made between the RNA and protein-dominated worlds. We report, based on crosslinking studies, that eukaryal RNAs, although catalytically inactive alone, fold into functional forms and specifically bind tRNA even in the absence of proteins. Based on the crosslinking results and crystal structures of bacterial RNAs, we develop a tertiary structure model of the eukaryal RNase P RNA. The eukaryal RNA contains a core structure similar to the bacterial RNA but lacks specific features that in bacterial RNAs contribute to catalysis and global stability of tertiary structure.
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