Chemoproteomic Approaches to Studying RNA Modification-Associated Proteins

Wei Dai, Nathan J. Yu, Ralph E. Kleiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conspectus The function of cellular RNA is modulated by a host of post-transcriptional chemical modifications installed by dedicated RNA-modifying enzymes. RNA modifications are widespread in biology, occurring in all kingdoms of life and in all classes of RNA molecules. They regulate RNA structure, folding, and protein-RNA interactions, and have important roles in fundamental gene expression processes involving mRNA, tRNA, rRNA, and other types of RNA species. Our understanding of RNA modifications has advanced considerably; however, there are still many outstanding questions regarding the distribution of modifications across all RNA transcripts and their biological function. One of the major challenges in the study of RNA modifications is the lack of sequencing methods for the transcriptome-wide mapping of different RNA-modification structures. Furthermore, we lack general strategies to characterize RNA-modifying enzymes and RNA-modification reader proteins. Therefore, there is a need for new approaches to enable integrated studies of RNA-modification chemistry and biology. In this Account, we describe our development and application of chemoproteomic strategies for the study of RNA-modification-associated proteins. We present two orthogonal methods based on nucleoside and oligonucleotide chemical probes: 1) RNA-mediated activity-based protein profiling (RNABPP), a metabolic labeling strategy based on reactive modified nucleoside probes to profile RNA-modifying enzymes in cells and 2) photo-cross-linkable diazirine-containing synthetic oligonucleotide probes for identifying RNA-modification reader proteins. We use RNABPP with C5-modified cytidine and uridine nucleosides to capture diverse RNA-pyrimidine-modifying enzymes including methyltransferases, dihydrouridine synthases, and RNA dioxygenase enzymes. Metabolic labeling facilitates the mechanism-based cross-linking of RNA-modifying enzymes with their native RNA substrates in cells. Covalent RNA-protein complexes are then isolated by denaturing oligo(dT) pulldown, and cross-linked proteins are identified by quantitative proteomics. Once suitable modified nucleosides have been identified as mechanism-based proteomic probes, they can be further deployed in transcriptome-wide sequencing experiments to profile the substrates of RNA-modifying enzymes at nucleotide resolution. Using 5-fluorouridine-mediated RNA-protein cross-linking and sequencing, we analyzed the substrates of human dihydrouridine synthase DUS3L. 5-Ethynylcytidine-mediated cross-linking enabled the investigation of ALKBH1 substrates. We also characterized the functions of these RNA-modifying enzymes in human cells by using genetic knockouts and protein translation reporters. We profiled RNA readers for N6-methyladenosine (m6A) and N1-methyladenosine (m1A) using a comparative proteomic workflow based on diazirine-containing modified oligonucleotide probes. Our approach enables quantitative proteome-wide analysis of the preference of RNA-binding proteins for modified nucleotides across a range of affinities. Interestingly, we found that YTH-domain proteins YTHDF1/2 can bind to both m6A and m1A to mediate transcript destabilization. Furthermore, m6A also inhibits stress granule proteins from binding to RNA. Taken together, we demonstrate the application of chemical probing strategies, together with proteomic and transcriptomic workflows, to reveal new insights into the biological roles of RNA modifications and their associated proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2726-2739
Number of pages14
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 3 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry


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