A Small Protein Unique to Bacteria Organizes rRNA Tertiary Structure Over an Extensive Region of the 50 S Ribosomal Subunit

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A number of small, basic proteins penetrate into the structure of the large subunit of the ribosome. While these proteins presumably aid in the folding of the rRNA, the extent of their contribution to the stability or function of the ribosome is unknown. One of these small, basic proteins is L36, which is highly conserved in Bacteria, but is not present in Archaea or Eucarya. Comparison of ribosome crystal structures shows that the space occupied by L36 in a bacterial ribosome is empty in an archaeal ribosome. To ask what L36 contributes to ribosome stability and function, we have constructed an Escherichia coli strain lacking ribosomal protein L36; cell growth is slowed by 40-50% between 30°C and 42°C. Ribosomes from this deletion strain sediment normally and have a full complement of proteins, other than L36. Chemical protection experiments comparing rRNA from wild-type and L36-deficient ribosomes show the expected increase in reagent accessibility in the immediate vicinity of the L36 binding site, but suggest that a cooperative network of rRNA tertiary interactions has been disrupted along a path extending 60 Å deep into the ribosome. These data argue that L36 plays a significant role in organizing 23 S rRNA structure. Perhaps the Archaea and Eucarya have compensated for their lack of L36 by maintaining more stable rRNA tertiary contacts or by adopting alternative protein-RNA interactions elsewhere in the ribosome.

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Elsevier Ltd.

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Journal of Molecular Biology

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