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An integrated perspective on RNA aptamer ligand-recognition models: clearing muddy waters

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Riboswitches are short RNA motifs that sensitively and selectively bind cognate ligands to modulate gene expression. Like protein receptor-ligand pairs, their binding dynamics are traditionally categorized as following one of two paradigmatic mechanisms: conformational selection and induced fit. In conformational selection, ligand binding stabilizes a particular state already present in the receptor’s dynamic ensemble. In induced fit, ligand-receptor interactions enable the system to overcome the energetic barrier into a previously inaccessible state. In this article, we question whether a polarized division of RNA binding mechanisms truly meets the conceptual needs of the field. We will review the history behind this classification of RNA-ligand interactions, and the way induced fit in particular has been rehabilitated by single-molecule studies of RNA aptamers. We will highlight several recent results from single-molecule experimental studies of riboswitches that reveal gaps or even contradictions between common definitions of the two terms, and we will conclude by proposing a more robust framework that considers the range of RNA behaviors unveiled in recent years as a reality to be described, rather than an increasingly unwieldy set of exceptions to the traditional models.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6921-6932
Number of pages11
JournalPhysical Chemistry Chemical Physics
Issue number10
Early online date15 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2017

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