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Life 2016, 6(1), 3; doi:10.3390/life6010003

The tRNA Elbow in Structure, Recognition and Evolution

Laboratory of Molecular Biology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 50 South Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
Laboratory of RNA Biophysics and Cellular Physiology, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 50 South Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Lluís Ribas de Pouplana, Adrian Gabriel Torres and Helga Stan-Lotter
Received: 18 November 2015 / Revised: 4 January 2016 / Accepted: 6 January 2016 / Published: 12 January 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [5850 KB, uploaded 12 January 2016]   |  


Prominent in the L-shaped three-dimensional structure of tRNAs is the “elbow” where their two orthogonal helical stacks meet. It has a conserved structure arising from the interaction of the terminal loops of the D- and T-stem-loops, and presents to solution a flat face of a tertiary base pair between the D- and T-loops. In addition to the ribosome, which interacts with the elbow in all three of its tRNA binding sites, several cellular RNAs and many proteins are known to recognize the elbow. At least three classes of non-coding RNAs, namely 23S rRNA, ribonuclease P, and the T-box riboswitches, recognize the tRNA elbow employing an identical structural motif consisting of two interdigitated T-loops. In contrast, structural solutions to tRNA-elbow recognition by proteins are varied. Some enzymes responsible for post-transcriptional tRNA modification even disrupt the elbow structure in order to access their substrate nucleotides. The evolutionary origin of the elbow is mysterious, but, because it does not explicitly participate in the flow of genetic information, it has been proposed to be a late innovation. Regardless, it is biologically essential. Even some viruses that hijack the cellular machinery using tRNA decoys have convergently evolved near-perfect mimics of the tRNA elbow. View Full-Text
Keywords: tRNA elbow; RNA structure; base stacking; ribosome; T-loop; convergent evolution tRNA elbow; RNA structure; base stacking; ribosome; T-loop; convergent evolution

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Zhang, J.; Ferré-D’Amaré, A.R. The tRNA Elbow in Structure, Recognition and Evolution. Life 2016, 6, 3.

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