Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. In a study published in the journal Cell on May 24, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) scientists describe the three-dimensional atomic structure of a human protein bound to a piece of RNA that "guides" the protein's ability to silence genes. The protein, Argonaute-2, is a key player in RNA interference (RNAi), a powerful cellular phenomenon that has important roles in diverse biological processes, including an organism's development.
"Detailed knowledge of the structure of human Argonaute-2 and the way it interacts with its RNA guides will greatly improve our understanding of its biological mechanism of action," says CSHL Professor and HHMI Investigator Leemor Joshua-Tor, Ph.D., the study's leader. "Such precise structural information of the human Argonaute bound to an important RNA guide could potentially aid both basic research to understand the function of genes and also advance the development of RNAi as a therapeutic strategy in clinical settings."
Upon the activation of a gene within a cell, the gene's DNA is copied into a messenger RNA (mRNA) "transcript." The instructions encoded within this transcript are then used as a blueprint by the cell's protein synthesis machinery to generate a working protein. The gene is "silenced" or prevented from giving rise to the protein, however, when an Argonaute-2 protein that is bound to a small piece of "guide" RNAeither a short-interfering RNA or a microRNAintercepts the mRNA molecule. The guide RNA, whose nucleotide sequence matches that of the target mRNA, acts as a homing device that helps the Argonaute-2 protein zero in on the mRNA target.
A few years ago, Joshua-Tor collaborated with CSHL Professor and HHMI Investigator Gregory Hannon, Ph.D., who is also a co-author in this study, to show that Argonaute proteins, which are made up of different domains or parts, act like a pair of molecular scissors that slice up target mRNAs, thus preventing
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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory