Visualization of a group II intron in the 23S rRNA of a stable ribosome. Academic Article uri icon


  • Thousands of introns have been localized to rRNA genes throughout the three domains of life. The consequences of the presence of either a spliced or an unspliced intron in a rRNA for ribosome assembly and packaging are largely unknown. To help address these questions, and to begin an intron imaging study, we selected a member of the self-splicing group II intron family, which is hypothesized to be the progenitor not only of spliceosomal introns but also of non-LTR retrotransposons. We cloned the self-splicing group II Ll.LtrB intron from Lactococcus lactis into L. lactis 23S rRNA. The 2,492-nt Ll.LtrB intron comprises a catalytic core and an ORF, which encodes a protein, LtrA. LtrA forms a ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex with the intron RNA to mediate splicing and mobility. The chimeric 23S-intron RNA was shown to be splicing proficient in its native host in the presence of LtrA. Furthermore, a low-resolution cryo-EM reconstruction of the L. lactis ribosome fused to the intron-LtrA RNP of a splicing-defective Ll.LtrB intron was obtained. The image revealed the intron as a large, well defined structure. The activity and structural integrity of the intron indicate not only that it can coexist with the ribosome but also that its presence permits the assembly of a stable ribosome. Additionally, we view our results as a proof of principle that ribosome chimeras may be generally useful for studying a wide variety of structured RNAs and RNP complexes that are not amenable to NMR, crystallographic, or single-particle cryo-EM methodologies.

publication date

  • June 27, 2006