Template-directed catalysis of a multi-step reaction pathway for nonenzymatic RNA primer extension.

Research paper by Travis T Walton, Lydia L Pazienza, Jack W JW Szostak

Indexed on: 20 Dec '18Published on: 20 Dec '18Published in: Biochemistry


Before the advent of polymerase enzymes, the copying of genetic material during the origin of life may have involved the nonenzymatic polymerization of RNA monomers that are more reactive than the biological nucleoside triphosphates. Activated RNA monomers such as nucleotide-5'-phosphoro-2-aminoimidazolides spontaneously form an imidazolium-bridged dinucleotide intermediate that undergoes rapid nonenzymatic template-directed primer extension. However, it is unknown whether the intermediate can form on the template or only in solution, and whether the intermediate is prone to hydrolysis when bound to the template or reacts preferentially with the primer. Here we show that an activated monomer can first bind the template and then form an imidazolium-bridged intermediate by reacting with a 2-aminoimidazole activated downstream oligonucleotide. We have also characterized the partition of the template-bound intermediate between hydrolysis and primer extension. In the presence of the catalytic metal ion Mg2+, over 90% of the template-bound intermediate reacts with the adjacent primer to generate the primer extension product, while less than 10% reacts with competing water. Our results indicate that an RNA template can catalyze a multi-step phosphodiester bond formation pathway while minimizing hydrolysis with a specificity reminiscent of an enzyme catalyzed reaction.