Molecular basis for the increased affinity of an RNA recognition motif with re-engineered specificity: A molecular dynamics and enhanced sampling simulations study

by Anna Bochicchio, Miroslav Krepl, Fan Yang, Gabriele Varani, Jiri Sponer, Paolo Carloni

The RNA recognition motif (RRM) is the most common RNA binding domain across eukaryotic proteins. It is therefore of great value to engineer its specificity to target RNAs of arbitrary sequence. This was recently achieved for the RRM in Rbfox protein, where four mutations R118D, E147R, N151S, and E152T were designed to target the precursor to the oncogenic miRNA 21. Here, we used a variety of molecular dynamics-based approaches to predict specific interactions at the binding interface. Overall, we have run approximately 50 microseconds of enhanced sampling and plain molecular dynamics simulations on the engineered complex as well as on the wild-type Rbfox·pre-miRNA 20b from which the mutated systems were designed. Comparison with the available NMR data on the wild type molecules (protein, RNA, and their complex) served to establish the accuracy of the calculations.
Free energy calculations suggest that further improvements in affinity and selectivity are achieved by the S151T replacement.

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