Unusual Base Pairs and Limits to Geometrical Recognition in Decoding Fidelity

Eric Westhof - Institut de Biologie Mol├ęculaire et Cellulaire (Strasbourg, France)

Sept. 24, 2015, 10 a.m. - Sept. 24, 2015, 10 a.m.

Stewart W4/12


The natural bases of nucleic acids form a great variety of base pairs with at least two hydrogen bonds between them. They are classified in twelve main families, with the Watson-Crick family being one of them. In a given family, some of the base pairs are isosteric between them, meaning that the positions and the distances between the C1’ carbon atoms are very similar. The isostericity of Watson-Crick pairs between the complementary bases forms the basis of RNA helices and of the resulting RNA secondary structure. In addition, several defined suites of non-Watson-Crick base pairs assemble into RNA modules that form recurrent, rather regular, building blocks of the tertiary architecture of folded RNAs. RNA modules are intrinsic to RNA architecture are therefore disconnected from a biological function specifically attached to a RNA sequence. RNA modules occur in all kingdoms of life and in structured RNAs with diverse functions. Because of chemical and geometrical constraints, isostericity between non-Watson-Crick pairs is restricted and this leads to higher sequence conservation in RNA modules with, consequently, greater difficulties in extracting 3D information from sequence analysis.
Nucleic acid helices have to be recognized in several biological processes like replication or translational decoding. In polymerases and the ribosomal decoding site, the recognition occurs on the minor groove sides of the helical fragments. With the use of alternative conformations, protonated or tautomeric forms of the bases, some base pairs with Watson-Crick-like geometries can form and be stabilized. Several of these pairs with Watson-Crick-like geometries extend the concept of isostericity beyond the number of isosteric pairs formed between complementary bases. These observations set therefore limits and constraints to geometric selection in molecular recognition of complementary Watson-Crick pairs for fidelity in replication and translation processes.