Self-cleaving ribozymes are RNA molecules that catalyze the cleavage of their own phosphodiester backbones. These ribozymes are found in all domains of life and are also a tool for biotechnical and synthetic biology applications. Self-cleaving ribozymes are also an important model of sequence-to-function relationships for RNA because their small size simplifies synthesis of genetic variants and self-cleaving activity is an accessible readout of the functional consequence of the mutation. Here, we used a high-throughput experimental approach to determine the relative activity for every possible single and double mutant of five self-cleaving ribozymes. From this data, we comprehensively identified non-additive effects between pairs of mutations (epistasis) for all five ribozymes. We analyzed how changes in activity and trends in epistasis map to the ribozyme structures. The variety of structures studied provided opportunities to observe several examples of common structural elements, and the data was collected under identical experimental conditions to enable direct comparison. Heatmap-based visualization of the data revealed patterns indicating structural features of the ribozymes including paired regions, unpaired loops, non-canonical structures, and tertiary structural contacts. The data also revealed signatures of functionally critical nucleotides involved in catalysis. The results demonstrate that the data sets provide structural information similar to chemical or enzymatic probing experiments, but with additional quantitative functional information. The large-scale data sets can be used for models predicting structure and function and for efforts to engineer self-cleaving ribozymes.
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Roberts, Jessica M.; Beck, James D.; Pollock, Tanner B.; Bendixsen, Devin P.; and Hayden, Eric J. (2023). "RNA Sequence to Structure Analysis from Comprehensive Pairwise Mutagenesis of Multiple Self-Cleaving Ribozymes". eLife, 12, e80360. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.80360