Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry and Biochemistry

Committee Chair(s)

Sean J. Johnson


Sean J. Johnson


Lance C. Seefeldt


Joan M. Hevel


Christopher P. Hill


Alvan C. Hengge


The essential protein Mtr4 is a conserved Ski2-like RNA helicase that maintains the integrity of nuclear RNA by promoting the 3' end decay of a wide variety of RNA substrates. Mtr4 activates the multi-protein exosome in RNA processing, surveillance, and turnover pathways by unwinding secondary structure and/or displacing associated proteins from RNA substrates. While Mtr4 may be able to promote decay independently, it is often associated with large multi-protein assemblies. Specifically, Mtr4 is the largest member of the TRAMP (Trf4/Air2/Mtr4 polyadenylation) complex which targets a plethora of RNA substrates for degradation by appending them with small (~5nt) poly(A) tails via the polymerase activity of Trf4. Mtr4 preferentially binds and unwinds RNAs with short poly(A) tails. Notably, the mechanism by which Mtr4 recognizes the length and identity of the RNA 3' end is coupled to the modulation of poly(A) polymerase activity of Trf4. The lack of structural data for Mtr4 and associated complexes severely limits the understanding of Mtr4 function. Particularly, it is unclear how Mtr4 senses RNA features, acts on RNA substrates, delivers RNA substrates to the exosome, and assembles into larger protein complexes. Presented here is the x-ray crystal structure of Mtr4 combined with detailed structural and biochemical analysis of the enzyme. The structure reveals that Mtr4 contains a four domain helicase core that is conserved in other RNA helicases and a unique arch-like RNA binding domain that is required for the in vivo processing of 5.8S rRNA. Furthermore, kinetic and in vivo analysis of conserved residues implicated in the poly(A) sensing mechanism demonstrates that ratchet helix residues regulate RNA unwinding and impact RNA sequence specificity. A comparison of the apo Mtr4 structure with the RNA/ADP bound structure (determined elsewhere) provides a view of the range of motion that individual domains of Mtr4 adopt upon substrate binding as well as the possible conformations that occur during RNA translocation. These studies provide an important framework for understanding the fundamental role of Mtr4 in exosome-mediated RNA decay, and more broadly describe common themes in architecture and function of the Ski2-like helicase family.




This work made publicly available electronically on December 21, 2012.

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