GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


RNA Therapeutics Institute

First Thesis Advisor

Phillip D. Zamore, PhD


Small Interfering RNA, Argonaute Proteins, RNA Interference, Drosophila Proteins, Nucleic Acid Hybridization, MicroRNAs, Molecular Imaging


Dissertations, UMMS; RNA, Small Interfering; Argonaute Proteins; RNA Interference; Drosophila Proteins; Nucleic Acid Hybridization; MicroRNAs; Molecular Imaging


Small RNA silencing pathways regulate development, viral defense, and genomic integrity in all kingdoms of life. An Argonaute (Ago) protein, guided by a tightly bound, small RNA or DNA, lies at the core of these pathways. Argonaute uses its small RNA or DNA to find its target sequences, which it either cleaves or stably binds, acting as a binding scaffold for other proteins. We used Co-localization Single-Molecule Spectroscopy (CoSMoS) to analyze target binding and cleavage by Ago and its guide. We find that both eukaryotic and prokaryotic Argonaute proteins re-shape the fundamental properties of RNA:RNA, RNA:DNA, and DNA:DNA hybridization: a small RNA or DNA bound to Argonaute as a guide no longer follows the well-established rules by which oligonucleotides find, bind, and dissociate from complementary nucleic acid sequences. Counter to the rules of nucleic acid hybridization alone, we find that mouse AGO2 and its guide bind to microRNA targets 17,000 times tighter than the guide without Argonaute. Moreover, AGO2 can distinguish between microRNA-like targets that make seven base pairs with the guide and the products of cleavage, which bind via nine base pairs: AGO2 leaves the cleavage products faster, even though they pair more extensively.

This thesis presents a detailed kinetic interrogation of microRNA and RNA interference pathways. We discovered sub-domains within the previously defined functional domains created by Argonaute and its bound DNA or RNA guide. These sub-domains have features that no longer conform to the well-established properties of unbound oligonucleotides. It is by re-writing the rules for nucleic acid hybridization that Argonautes allow oligonucleotides to serve as specificity determinants with thermodynamic and kinetic properties more typical of RNA-binding proteins than that of RNA or DNA. Taken altogether, these studies further our understanding about the biology of small RNA silencing pathways and may serve to guide future work related to all RNA-guided endonucleases.



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