The U6 RNA intramolecular stem–loop (ISL) is a conserved component of the spliceosome, and contains an essential metal ion binding site centered between a protonated adenine, A79, and U80. Correlated with protonation of A79, U80 undergoes a base-flipping conformational change accompanied by significant helical movement. We have investigated the dynamics of the U6 ISL by analyzing the power dependence of 13 C NMR relaxation rates in the rotating frame. The data provide evidence that the conformational transition is centered around an exchange lifetime of 84μs. The U80 nucleotide displays low internal mobility on the picosecond time-scale at pH 7.0 but high internal mobility at pH 6.0, in agreement with the global transition resulting in the base of U80 adopting a looped-out conformation with increased dynamic disorder. A kinetic analysis suggests that the conformational change, rather than adenine protonation, is the rate-limiting step in the pathway of the conformational transition. Two nucleotides, U70 and U80, were found from chemical shift perturbation mapping to interact with the magnesium ion, with apparent K d values in the micromolar to millimolar range. These nucleotides also displayed metal ion-induced elevation of R 1 rates, which can be explained by a model that assumes dynamic metal ion coordination concomitant with an induced higher shielding anisotropy for the base 13 C nuclei. Addition of Mg 2+ shifts the conformational equilibrium toward the high-pH (base-stacked) structure, accompanied by a significant drop in the apparent pK a of A79.
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