Distribution of protein and RNA in the 30S ribosomal subunit

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Science  28 Mar 1986:
Vol. 231, Issue 4745, pp. 1562-1564
DOI: 10.1126/science.3513310


In Escherichia coli, the small ribosomal subunit has a sedimentation coefficient of 30S, and consists of a 16S RNA molecule of 1541 nucleotides complexed with 21 proteins. Over the last few years, a controversy has emerged regarding the spatial distribution of RNA and protein in the 30S subunit. Contrast variation with neutron scattering was used to suggest that the RNA was located in a central core of the subunit and the proteins mainly in the periphery, with virtually no separation between the centers of mass of protein and RNA. However, these findings are incompatible with the results of efforts to locate individual ribosomal proteins by immune electron microscopy and triangulation with interprotein distance measurements. The conflict between these two views is resolved in this report of small-angle neutron scattering measurements on 30S subunits with and without protein S1, and on subunits reconstituted from deuterated 16S RNA and unlabeled proteins. The results show that (i) the proteins and RNA are intermingled, with neither component dominating at the core or the periphery, and (ii) the spatial distribution of protein and RNA is asymmetrical, with a separation between their centers of mass of about 25 angstroms.