An Allosteric Self-Splicing Ribozyme Triggered by a Bacterial Second Messenger

Science  13 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5993, pp. 845-848
DOI: 10.1126/science.1190713

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Riboswitch Revealed

Short regulatory regions—riboswitches—are found in the messenger RNAs of many bacteria, plants, and fungi. They bind to small-molecule metabolites and, through switching between alternate RNA secondary structures, regulate the expression of the linked RNA. Lee et al. (p. 845) have identified a c-di-GMP (cyclic di-guanosyl-5′-monophosphate)–binding riboswitch in the bacterium Clostridium difficile that regulates the splicing of a group I self-splicing ribozyme. Binding of c-di-GMP to the riboswitch favors a conformation of the ribozyme that promotes splicing in the presence of guanosine triphosphate (as is typical for this class of ribozymes). Concomitantly, splicing promotes the formation of a ribosome binding site, thereby stimulating protein production from the downstream pathogenesis-related gene. This regulatory region may thus constitute a two-input gene-control system that reads the concentration of both GTP and c-di-GMP. Thus, not all group I self-splicing ribozymes represent selfish genetic elements.


Group I self-splicing ribozymes commonly function as components of selfish mobile genetic elements. We identified an allosteric group I ribozyme, wherein self-splicing is regulated by a distinct riboswitch class that senses the bacterial second messenger c-di-GMP. The tandem RNA sensory system resides in the 5′ untranslated region of the messenger RNA for a putative virulence gene in the pathogenic bacterium Clostridium difficile. c-di-GMP binding by the riboswitch induces folding changes at atypical splice site junctions to modulate alternative RNA processing. Our findings indicate that some self-splicing ribozymes are not selfish elements but are harnessed by cells as metabolite sensors and genetic regulators.

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