Thirty-five RNA duplexes containing single nucleotide bulge loops were optically melted and the thermodynamic parameters for each duplex determined. The bulge loops were of the group III variety, where the bulged nucleotide is either a AG/U or CU/G, leading to ambiguity to the exact position and identity of the bulge. All possible group III bulge loops with Watson–Crick nearest-neighbors were examined. The data were used to develop a model to predict the free energy of an RNA duplex containing a group III single nucleotide bulge loop. The destabilization of the duplex by the group III bulge could be modeled so that the bulge nucleotide leads to the formation of the Watson–Crick base pair rather than the wobble base pair. The destabilization of an RNA duplex caused by the insertion of a group III bulge is primarily dependent upon non-nearest-neighbor interactions and was shown to be dependent upon the stability of second least stable stem of the duplex. In-line structure probing of group III bulge loops embedded in a hairpin indicated that the bulged nucleotide is the one positioned further from the hairpin loop irrespective of whether the resulting stem formed a Watson–Crick or wobble base pair. Fourteen RNA hairpins containing group III bulge loops, either 3′ or 5′ of the hairpin loop, were optically melted and the thermodynamic parameters determined. The model developed to predict the influence of group III bulge loops on the stability of duplex formation was extended to predict the influence of bulge loops on hairpin stability.
Non-nearest-neighbor dependence of stability for group III RNA single nucleotide bulge loops