Molecular insights into the interaction between a disordered protein and a folded RNA

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Molecular insights into the interaction between a disordered protein and a folded RNA


Mitra, R.; Usher, E. T.; Dedeoglu, S.; Crotteau, M. J.; Fraser, O. A.; Yannawar, N. H.; Gadkari, V. V.; Ruotolo, B. T.; Holehouse, A. S.; Salmon, L.; Showalter, S. A.; Bardwell, J. C.


Intrinsically disordered protein regions (IDRs) are well-established as contributors to intermolecular interactions and the formation of biomolecular condensates. In particular, RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) often harbor IDRs in addition to folded RNA-binding domains that contribute to RBP function. To understand the dynamic interactions of an IDR-RNA complex, we characterized the RNA-binding features of a small (68 residues), positively charged IDR- containing protein, SERF. At high concentrations, SERF and RNA undergo charge-driven associative phase separation to form a protein- and RNA-rich dense phase. A key advantage of this model system is that this threshold for demixing is sufficiently high that we could use solution-state biophysical methods to interrogate the stoichiometric complexes of SERF with RNA in the one-phase regime. Herein, we describe our comprehensive characterization of SERF alone and in complex with a small fragment of the HIV-1 TAR RNA (TAR) with complementary biophysical methods and molecular simulations. We find that this binding event is not accompanied by the acquisition of structure by either molecule; however, we see evidence for a modest global compaction of the SERF ensemble when bound to RNA. This behavior likely reflects attenuated charge repulsion within SERF via binding to the polyanionic RNA and provides a rationale for the higher-order assembly of SERF in the context of RNA. We envision that the SERF-RNA system will lower the barrier to accessing the details that support IDR-RNA interactions and likewise deepen our understanding of the role of IDR-RNA contacts in complex formation and liquid-liquid phase separation.

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