Forum 06/19/2003

“A Structural Model for the Assembly of the Small Subunit of the Ribosome”

Scott Stagg, Ph.D. – The Department of Cell Biology, The Scripps Research Insititute, La Jolla, CA

The order in which proteins bind to 16 S rRNA, the assembly map, was determined by Nomura and co-workers in the early 1970s. The assembly map shows the dependencies of binding of successive proteins but fails to address the relationship of these dependencies to the three-dimensional folding of the ribosome. Here, using molecular mechanics techniques, we rationalize the order of protein binding in terms of ribosomal folding. Our results show that proteins nucleate the folding of the head, platform, and body domains, but they do not strongly restrict the orientations of the domains relative to one another. We also examined the contributions of individual proteins to the formation of binding sites for sequential proteins in the assembly process. Binding sites for the primary binding proteins are generally more ordered in the naked RNA than those for other proteins. Furthermore, we examined one pathway in the assembly map and found that the addition of early binding proteins helps to organize the RNA around the binding sites of proteins that bind later. It appears that the order of assembly depends on the degree of pre-organization of each protein’s binding site at a given stage of assembly, and the impact that the binding of each protein has on the organization of the remaining unoccupied binding sites.