The intron–exon organization of the genes is nowadays taken for granted and constitutes a fully established theory. DNA protein-coding sequences (exons) are not contiguous but rather separated by silent intervening fragments (introns), which must be removed in a process called pre-mRNA splicing. However, this fragmented composition of the eukaryotic genome has ancient origins. It appears that, during the initial stages of eukaryotic evolution, group II introns, i.e. self-splicing catalytic ribozymes, invaded the eukaryotic genome via the endosymbiosis of an alpha-proteobacterium in an archaeal host. At a later time, they split into the inert spliceosomal introns and the catalytically active small nuclear (sn)RNAs, which, together with additional splicing factors, gave rise to the eukaryotic spliceosome. This marked the transition from the autocatalytic splicing, mediated by ribozymes (RNA filaments endowed with an intrinsic catalytic activity) to splicing mediated by a protein-RNA machinery, the spliceosome. In the present thesis, the evolutionary relationship between group II introns and the spliceosome is retraced from a computational perspective by means of classical molecular dynamics simulations (MD), quantum mechanics calculations (QM) and combined quantum-classical simulations (QM/MM). The splicing process of these two different – but mechanistically related – large and sophisticated biomolecules is investigated with the aim of deciphering the reactivity and the structural properties from a computational point of view, with a focus on the role played by the Mg2+ ions as splicing cofactors. In Chapter 2, the importance of Mg2+ ions in the RNA biology is introduced. Not only they participate to the catalysis, but also represent essential structural and functional elements for RNA filaments. Moreover, the structural and molecular biology of group II intron ribozymes and the spliceosome machinery are widely discussed with a focus on their evolutionary links. Chapter 3 consists of a brief review of all the computational techniques employed in this thesis, from classical MD to QM and QM/MM simulations and enhanced sampling methods aimed at reconstructing the free energy of a process. Chapter 4 is entirely dedicated to the splicing mechanism promoted by group II intron ribozymes, representing the starting point of the evolutionary journey. In this chapter, a QM/MM study of the molecular mechanism of group II introns first-step hydrolytic splicing is presented, unveiling an RNA-adapted Steitz and Steitz’s two-Mg2+-ion dissociative catalysis which differs from the one observed in protein enzymes. Chapter 5 is focused on Mg2+ ions, which are the natural cofactors of splicing, both in group II introns and in the spliceosome. Mg2+/RNA interplay is here addressed using a group II intron as a prototype of a large RNA molecule binding Mg2+. The performances of five different force fields currently used to describe Mg2+ in MD simulations are benchmarked, showing strengths and drawbacks. Moreover, the non-trivial electronic effects induced by Mg2+ on its ligands, such as charge transfer and polarization, are also characterized using 16 recurrent binding motifs. Overall, the study offers some guidelines on Mg2+ force fields for users and developers. Chapter 6 represents the final stop of the evolutionary journey. Here, an exquisite cryo-EM model of the ILS spliceosomal complex solved at 3.6 Å resolution is used for a long-time scale MD study. This provides precious insights on the main proteins and snRNAs involved in the pre-mRNA splicing in eukaryotes as well as on the catalytic site. Unprecedentedly, the structural and dynamical properties of the spliceosome machinery are investigated at the atomistic level, with a particular emphasis on protein/RNA interplay through the characterization of their principal motions, among which the intron lariat/U2 snRNA helix unwinding.
|Titolo:||Pre-mRNA Splicing: An Evolutionary Computational Journey from Ribozymes to Spliceosome|
|Relatore/i esterni:||Röthlisberger, Ursula|
|Data di pubblicazione:||18-ott-2017|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||8.1 PhD thesis|