Structural definition of substrate recognition by model RNA capping enzymes and the identification of a novel class of viral RNA capping enzymes
The RNA cap structure is a fundamental feature of most known eukaryotic mRNAs and some viral RNAs, It is important for the stability, transport and translation of mRNAs. It is co-transcriptionally synthesized via the action of 3 consecutive enzymatic reactions: (1) A RNA triphosphatase which cleaves off the 5' terminal phosphate of nascent RNAs; (2) A RNA guanylyltransferase which transfers a GMP moiety onto the acceptor RNA; (3) A RNA (guanine-N7) methyltransferase which methylates the cap guanine at the N7 position. Through the end of the 1990's until now, the crystal structures of several capping enzymes have been solved. However, these structures, although very insightful in themselves, failed to provide any instructive information on several key issues regarding enzyme-substrate interactions. For instance, one of the first breakthrough crystallographic studies in RNA capping chemistry led to the elucidation of the yeast RNA triphosphatase structure (the Cet1 protein). However, in the crystal structure, the Cet1 protein was bound to a sulphate molecule, which was hypothesised to be mimicking the product of the RNA triphosphatase reaction- a phosphate molecule.The inability to capture the RNA triphosphatase in complex with its ligands is probably on account of the inherent thermodynamic instability of this protein when bound to RNA or a nucleotide. A structural definition of the active site of the yeast RNA triphosphatase in complex with an appropriate substrate is still lacking. In addition, the elucidation of the structure of the RNA guanylyltransferase of the Paramecium bursaria chlorella virus -1 (PBCV-1) in several different conformations has been a landmark study which greatly contributed towards the understanding of the catalytic pathway of this model enzyme. On the other hand, despite the presence of the natural substrate-GTP, within the active site of the enzyme, the rationale behind the GTP specificity of RNA guanylyltransferase remains poorly understood. Moreover, a molecular mechanism for the RNA guanylyltransferase reaction is still missing. Finally, the importance of the RNA cap for the process of eukaryotic translation is undisputable. However, the relationship between the RNA cap and translation has been mostly studied indirectly through proteins which bind to the cap structure. Most studies pertaining directly to the impact of the binding of the RNA cap structure have been restricted to investigating the inhibitory potential of various cap analogues on the translation process. Studies on the effects of modified RNA caps at the 5' ends of RNAs have only started in the last few years, and more importantly, the necessity of the N7-methyl group on RNA cap analogues had not been addressed. This thesis therefore aims to provide a structural insight into the structural dynamics of enzyme-ligand(s) interactions of the model S. cerevisiae's RNA triphosphatase and the PBCV-1 RNA guanylyltransferase. In addition, we show that purine analogues can be a useful tool for the study of several cellular processes, such as RNA translation. In the process we have uncovered a novel class of RNA capping enzyme in the flavivirus genus of the Flaviviridae family of RNA viruses, thus providing a more succinct insight into the flaviviral replication complex.