Analysis of Four-Way Junctions in RNA Structures

Christian Laing, Tamar Schlick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


RNA secondary structures can be divided into helical regions composed of canonical Watson-Crick and related base pairs, as well as single-stranded regions such as hairpin loops, internal loops, and junctions. These elements function as building blocks in the design of diverse RNA molecules with various fundamental functions in the cell. To better understand the intricate architecture of three-dimensional (3D) RNAs, we analyze existing RNA four-way junctions in terms of base-pair interactions and 3D configurations. Specifically, we identify nine broad junction families according to coaxial stacking patterns and helical configurations. We find that helices within junctions tend to arrange in roughly parallel and perpendicular patterns and stabilize their conformations using common tertiary motifs such as coaxial stacking, loop-helix interaction, and helix packing interaction. Our analysis also reveals a number of highly conserved base-pair interaction patterns and novel tertiary motifs such as A-minor-coaxial stacking combinations and sarcin/ricin motif variants. Such analyses of RNA building blocks can ultimately help in the difficult task of RNA 3D structure prediction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-559
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 17 2009


  • RNA structure
  • coaxial stacking
  • four-way junction
  • non-Watson-Crick base pair
  • tertiary motifs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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