Comparative genomics and evolution of trans-activating RNAs in Class 2 CRISPR-Cas systems.

Research paper by Guilhem G Faure, Sergey A SA Shmakov, Kira S KS Makarova, Yuri I YI Wolf, Alexandra B AB Crawley, Rodolphe R Barrangou, Eugene V EV Koonin

Indexed on: 15 Aug '18Published on: 15 Aug '18Published in: RNA biology


Trans-activating CRISPR (tracr) RNA is a distinct RNA species that interacts with the CRISPR (cr) RNA to form the dual guide (g) RNA in type II and subtype V-B CRISPR-Cas systems. The tracrRNA-crRNA interaction is essential for pre-crRNA processing as well as target recognition and cleavage. The tracrRNA consists of an antirepeat, which forms an imperfect hybrid with the repeat in the crRNA, and a distal region containing a Rho-independent terminator. Exhaustive comparative analysis of the sequences and predicted structures of the Class 2 CRISPR guide RNAs shows that all these guide RNAs share distinct structural features, in particular, the nexus stem-loop that separates the repeat-antirepeat hybrid from the distal portion of the tracrRNA and the conserved GU pair at that end of the hybrid. These structural constraints might ensure full exposure of the spacer for target recognition. Reconstruction of tracrRNA evolution for 4 tight bacterial groups demonstrates random drift of repeat-antirepeat complementarity within a window of hybrid stability that is, apparently, maintained by selection. An evolutionary scenario is proposed whereby tracrRNAs evolved on multiple occasions, via rearrangement of a CRISPR array to form the antirepeat in different locations with respect to the array. A functional tracrRNA would form if, in the new location, the antirepeat is flanked by sequences that meet the minimal requirements for a promoter and a Rho-independent terminator. Alternatively, or additionally, the antirepeat sequence could be occasionally 'reset' by recombination with a repeat, restoring the functionality of tracrRNAs that drift beyond the required minimal hybrid stability.