The kink-turn in the structural biology of RNA

Lin Huang, David M. J. Lilley (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    The kink-turn (k-turn) is a widespread structural motif found in functional RNA species. It typically comprises a three-nucleotide bulge followed by tandem trans sugar edge-Hoogsteen G:A base pairs. It introduces a sharp kink into the axis of duplex RNA, juxtaposing the minor grooves. Cross-strand H-bonds form at the interface, accepted by the conserved adenine nucleobases of the G:A basepairs. Alternative acceptors for one of these divides the k-turns into two conformational classes N3 and N1. The base pair that follows the G:A pairs (3b:3n) determines which conformation is adopted by a given k-turn. k-turns often mediate tertiary contacts in folded RNA species and frequently bind proteins. Common k-turn binding proteins include members of the L7Ae family, such as the human 15·5k protein. A recognition helix within these proteins binds in the widened major groove on the outside of the k-turn, that makes specific H-bonds with the conserved guanine nucleobases of the G:A pairs. L7Ae binds with extremely high affinity, and single-molecule data are consistent with folding by conformational selection. The standard, simple k-turn can be elaborated in a variety of ways, that include the complex k-turns and the k-junctions. In free solution in the absence of added metal ions or protein k-turns do not adopt the tightly-kinked conformation. They undergo folding by the binding of proteins, by the formation of tertiary contacts, and some (but not all) will fold on the addition of metal ions. Whether or not folding occurs in the presence of metal ions depends on local sequence, including the 3b:3n position, and the -1b:-1n position (5' to the bulge). In most cases -1b:-1n = C:G, so that the 3b:3n position is critical since it determines both folding properties and conformation. In general, the selection of these sequence matches a given k-turn to its biological requirements. The k-turn structure is now very well understood, to the point at which they can be used as a building block for the formation of RNA nano-objects, including triangles and squares.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere5
    Pages (from-to)1-32
    Number of pages32
    JournalQuarterly Reviews of Biophysics
    Early online date12 Apr 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • Animals
    • Humans
    • Hydrogen Bonding
    • Metals/chemistry
    • Models, Molecular
    • Protein Binding
    • RNA/chemistry
    • RNA Folding


    Dive into the research topics of 'The kink-turn in the structural biology of RNA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this