Date of Award

12-1-2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Molecular Biology, Microbiology and Biochemistry

First Advisor

Gupta, Ramesh

Abstract

Stable RNAs undergo a wide variety of post-transcriptional modifications, that add to the functional repertoire of these molecules. Some of these modifications are catalyzed by stand-alone protein enzymes, while some others are catalyzed by RNA-protein complexes. tRNAs from all domains of life contain many such modifications, that increase their structural stability and refine their decoding properties. Certain regions of tRNAs are more frequently modified than others. Two such regions are the anticodon loop, and the TψC stem. In the halophilic euryarchaeon Haloferax volcanii, tRNATrp and tRNAMet, both of which are transcribed as intron-containing pre-tRNA forms, contain Cm34 and ψ54, in addition to other modifications, in these two regions, respectively. The Cm34 modification in both cases is RNP-mediated: tRNATrp Cm34 formation being guided by its own intron, while that of tRNAMet being guided by a unique guide RNA called sR-tMet. We created genomic deletion of H. volcanii tRNATrp intron by homologous recombination based technique, and showed that this strain is viable, and does not demonstrate any observable growth phenotype. However, the corresponding modifications are absent in this intron-deleted strain. Our structural and functional characterizations of sR-tMet revealed that it is unique in its structural properties and deviates considerably from its homologs in other Archaea. We also identified a novel L7Ae (a core protein associated with archaeal methylation guide RNPs) binding motif in sR-tMet. ψ54, the near universal modification found in TψC stem-loop of archaeal tRNAs is catalyzed by the protein Pus10. An earlier study from our laboratory had shown that Pus10 from two different archaea, Methanocaldococcus jannaschii (MjPus10) and Pyrococcus furiosus (PfuPus10) have differential activities towards ψ54 formation. Using the crystal structure of Human Pus10 as template, we created homology models of MjPus10 and PfuPus10 proteins and identified several residues and motifs that might lead to this difference in activity. By a combination of both in vitro and in vivo mutational approaches, we confirmed several previously unidentified residues/motifs that serve as positive determinants of tRNA ψ54 formation. Finally, as an extension to this study, we have identified a novel tRNA ψ54 forming activity in mammalian nuclear extracts, and attributed this activity to Pus10.

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