19F nuclear magnetic resonance has been used to study fully active Escherichia coli tRNA1Val in which 5-fluorouracil has replaced more than 90% of all uracil and uracil-derived modified bases. The 19F spectrum of the native tRNA contains resolved resonances for all 14 incorporated 5-fluorouracils. These are spread over a 6 ppm range, from 1.8 to 7.7 ppm downfield of the standard free 5-fluorouracil. The 19F resonances serve as sensitive monitors of tRNA conformation. Removal of magnesium or addition of NaCl produces major, reversible changes in the 19F spectrum. Most affected is the lowest field resonance (peak A) in the spectrum of the native tRNA. This shifts 2–3 ppm upfield as the Mg2+ concentration is lowered or the NaCl concentration is raised. Thermal denaturation of the tRNA results in a collapse of the spectrum to a single broad peak centered at 4.7 ppm. Study of the pH dependence of the 19F spectrum shows that five incorporated fluorouracils with 19F signals in the central, 4-5.5 ppm, region of the spectrum, peaks C, D, E, F, and H, are accessible to titration in the pH 4,5-9 range. All have pKa's close to that of free 5-fluorouridine (ca. 7.5). Evidence for a conformation change in the tRNA at mildly acidic pHs, ca. 5.5, is also presented. Four of the titratable 5-fluorouracil residues, those corresponding to peaks D, E/F, and H in the 19F spectrum of fluorine-labeled tRNA1Val, are essentially completely exposed to solvent as determined by the solvent isotope shift (SIS) on transfer of the tRNA from H20 to 2H20. These are also the 5-fluorouracils that readily form adducts with bisulfite, a reagent that reacts preferentially with pyrimidines in single-stranded regions. On the basis of these results, resonances D, E, F, and H in the middle of the 19F spectrum are attributed to 5-fluorouracils in non-base-paired (loop) regions of the tRNA. Evidence from the ionic strength dependence of the 19F spectrum and arguments based on other recent studies with fluorinated tRNAs support earlier suggestions [Horowitz, J., Ofengand, J., Daniel, W. E., & Cohn, M. (1977) J. Biol. Chem. 252, 4418–4420] that the resonances at lowest field correspond to tertiary hydrogen-bonded 5-fluorouracils. Consideration of ring-current effects and the preferential perturbation of upfield 19F resonances by the cyclophotoaddition of 4'-(hydroxymethyl)-4,5',8-trimethylpsoralen, which is known to react most readily with pyrimidines in double-stranded regions, permits initial assignment of upfield resonances to 5-fluorouracils in helical stems. The results demonstrate the promise of 19F nuclear magnetic resonance as a probe for the structure of tRNA in solution.
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