Riboswitches are RNAs capable of binding cellular metabolites using a diverse array of secondary and tertiary structures to modulate gene expression. The recent determination of the three-dimensional structures of parts of six different riboswitches illuminates common features that allow riboswitches to be grouped into one of two types. Type I riboswitches, as exemplified by the purine riboswitch, are characterized by a single, localized binding pocket supported by a largely pre-established global fold. This arrangement limits ligand-induced conformational changes in the RNA to a small region. In contrast, Type II riboswitches, such as the thiamine pyrophosphate riboswitch, contain binding pockets split into at least two spatially distinct sites. As a result, binding induces both local changes to the binding pocket and global architecture. Similar organizational themes are found in other noncoding RNAs, making it possible to begin to build a hierarchical classification of RNA structure based on the spatial organization of their active sites and associated secondary structural elements.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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