Riboswitches are structured RNA motifs that control gene expression by sensing the concentrations of specific metabolites and make up a promising new class of antibiotic targets. S-Adenosylmethionine (SAM)-III riboswitch, mainly found in lactic acid bacteria, is involved in regulating methionine and SAM biosynthetic pathways. SAM-III riboswitch regulates the gene expression by switching the translation process on and off with respect to the absence and presence of the SAM ligand, respectively. In this study, an attempt is made to understand the key conformational transitions involved in ligand binding using atomistic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations performed in an explicit solvent environment. G26 is found to recognize the SAM ligand by forming hydrogen bonds, whereas the absence of the ligand leads to opening of the binding pocket. Consistent with experimental results, the absence of the SAM ligand weakens the base pairing interactions between the nucleobases that are part of the Shine-Dalgarno (SD) and anti-Shine-Dalgarno (aSD) sequences, which in turn facilitates recognition of the SD sequence by ribosomes. Detailed analysis reveals that a duplex-like structure formed by nucleotides from different parts of the RNA and the adenine base of the ligand is crucial for the stability of the completely folded state in the presence of the ligand. Previous experimental studies have shown that the SAM-III riboswitch exists in equilibrium between the unfolded and partially folded states in the absence of the ligand, which completely folds upon binding of the ligand. Comparison of the results presented here to the available experimental data indicates the structures obtained using the MD simulations resemble the partially folded state. Thus, this study provides a detailed understanding of the fully and partially folded structures of the SAM-III riboswitch in the presence and absence of the ligand, respectively. This study hypothesizes a dual role for the SAM ligand, which facilitates conformational switching between partially and fully folded states by forming a stable duplex-like structure and strengthening the interactions between SD and aSD nucleotides.
ASJC Scopus subject areas