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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

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Reader's Corner Archive

22 Jan 2020

Challenges and perspectives for structural biology of lncRNAs-the example of the Xist lncRNA A-repeats

Following the discovery of numerous long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) transcripts in the human genome, their important roles in biology and human disease are emerging. Recent progress in experimental methods has enabled the identification of structural features of lncRNAs. However, determining high-resolution structures is challenging as lncRNAs are expected to be dynamic and adopt multiple conformations, which may be modulated by interaction with protein binding partners. The X-inactive specific transcript (Xist) is necessary for X inactivation during dosage compensation in female placental mammals and one of the best-studied lncRNAs. Recent progress has provided new insights into the domain organization, molecular features, and RNA binding proteins that interact with distinct regions of Xist. The A-repeats located at the 5' end of the transcript are of particular interest as they are essential for mediating silencing of the inactive X chromosome. In this review, recent progress with elucidating structural features of the Xist lncRNA, focusing on the A-repeats is discussed. The experimental and computational approaches employed that have led to distinct structural models, likely reflecting the intrinsic dynamics of this RNA are overviewed. The presence of multiple dynamic conformations may also play an important role in the formation of the associated RNPs, thus influencing the molecular mechanism underlying the biological function of the Xist A-repeats. Alisha Jones and Michael Sattler in Journal of Molecular Cell Biology propose that integrative approaches that combine biochemical experiments and high-resolution structural biology in vitro with chemical probing and functional studies in vivo are required to unravel the molecular mechanisms of lncRNAs.

3 Dec 2019

PEGylated surfaces for the study of DNA–protein interactions by atomic force microscopy

DNA–protein interactions are vital to cellular function, with key roles in the regulation of gene expression and genome maintenance. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) offers the ability to visualize DNA–protein interactions at nanometer resolution in near-physiological buffers, but it requires that the DNA be adhered to the surface of a solid substrate. This presents a problem when working in biologically relevant protein concentrations, where proteins may be present in large excess in solution; much of the biophysically relevant information can therefore be occluded by non-specific protein binding to the underlying substrate. Here we explore the use of PLLx-b-PEGy block copolymers to achieve selective adsorption of DNA on a mica surface for AFM studies. Through varying both the number of lysine and ethylene glycol residues in the block copolymers, Bart Hoogenboom, Alice Pyne et al. show selective adsorption of DNA on mica that is functionalized with a PLL10-b-PEG113/PLL1000–2000 mixture as viewed by AFM imaging in a solution containing high concentrations of streptavidin. They demonstrate – through the use of biotinylated DNA and streptavidin – that this selective adsorption extends to DNA–protein complexes and that DNA-bound streptavidin can be unambiguously distinguished in spite of an excess of unbound streptavidin in solution. Finally, they apply this to the nuclear enzyme PARP1, resolving the binding of individual PARP1 molecules to DNA by in-liquid AFM.

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