Long-Distance Communication in the HDV Ribozyme: Insights from Molecular Dynamics and Experiments

Narayanan Veeraraghavan, Philip C. Bevilacqua, Sharon Hammes-Schiffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The hepatitis delta virus ribozyme is a small, self-cleaving RNA with a compact tertiary structure and buried active site that is important in the life cycle of the virus. The ribozyme's function in nature is to cleave an internal phosphodiester bond and linearize concatemers during rolling circle replication. Crystal structures of the ribozyme have been solved in both pre-cleaved and post-cleaved (product) forms and reveal an intricate network of interactions that conspire to catalyze bond cleavage. In addition, extensive biochemical studies have been performed to work out a mechanism for bond cleavage in which C75 and a magnesium ion catalyze the reaction by general acid-base chemistry. One issue that has remained unclear in this ribozyme and in other ribozymes is the nature of long-distance communication between peripheral regions of the RNA and the buried active site. We performed molecular dynamics simulations on the hepatitis delta virus ribozyme in the product form and assessed communication between a distal structural portion of the ribozyme-the protonated C41 base triple-and the active site containing the critical C75. We varied the ionization state of C41 in both the wild type and a C41 double mutant variant and determined the impact on the active site. In all four cases, effects at the active site observed in the simulations agree with experimental studies on ribozyme activity. Overall, these studies indicate that small functional RNAs have the potential to communicate interactions over long distances and that wild-type RNAs may have evolved ways to prevent such interactions from interfering with catalysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-291
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


  • HDV
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Ribozyme
  • RNA dynamics


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