Leading RNA tertiary interactions: Structures, energies, and water insertion of a-minor and p-interactions. A quantum chemical view
Complex molecular shapes of ribosomal RNA molecules are stabilized by recurrent types of tertiary interactions involving highly specific and conserved non-Watson-Crick base pairs, triplets, and quartets. We analyzed the intrinsic structure and stability of the P-motif and the four basic types of A-minor interactions (types I, II, III, and 0), which represent the most prominent RNA tertiary interaction patterns refined in the course of evolution. In the studied interactions, the electron correlation component of the stabilization usually exceeds the Hartree-Fock (HF) term, leading to a strikingly different balance of forces as compared to standard base pairing stabilized primarily by the HF term. In other words, the A-minor and P-interactions are considerably more influenced by the dispersion energy as compared to canonical base pairs, which makes them particularly suitable to zip the folded RNA structures that are substantially hydrated even in their interior. Continuum solvent COSMO calculations confirm that the stability of the canonical GC base pair is affected (reduced) by the continuum solvent screening considerably more than the stability of the A-minor interaction. Among the studied systems, the strong A-minor II and weak A-minor III interactions require water molecules to stabilize the experimental geometry. Gas-phase optimization of the canonical A-minor II A/CG triplet without water results in a geometry that is clearly inconsistent with the RNA structure. The gas-phase structure of the P-interaction and the most stable A-minor I interaction nicely agrees with the geometries occurring in the ribosome. A-minor I can also adopt an alternative water-mediated substate rather often observed in X-ray and molecular dynamics studies. The A-minor I water bridge, however, does not appear to stabilize the tertiary contact, and its role is to provide structural flexibility to this binding pattern within the context of the RNA structure. Interestingly, the insertion of a polar water molecule in the A-minor I A/CG tertiary contact occurring in the A/C tertiary pair is stabilized primarily by the HF (electrostatic) interaction energy, while the dispersion-controlled A/G contact remains firmly bound. Thus, the intrinsic balance of forces as revealed by quantum mechanics (QM) calculations nicely correlates with many behavioral aspects of the studied interactions inside RNA. The comparison of interaction energies computed using quantum chemistry and an AMBER force field reveals that common molecular mechanics calculations perform rather well, except that the strength of the P-interaction is modestly overestimated. We also briefly discuss the non-negligible methodological differences when evaluating simple base-base nucleic acids base pairs and the complex RNA tertiary base pairing patterns using QM procedures.