Conformational capture of the SAM-II riboswitch
Riboswitches are gene regulation elements in mRNA that function by specifically responding to metabolites. Although the metabolite-bound states of riboswitches have proven amenable to structure determination efforts, knowledge of the structural features of riboswitches in their ligand-free forms and their ligand-response mechanisms giving rise to regulatory control is lacking. Here we explore the ligand-induced folding process of the S-adenosylmethionine type II (SAM-II) riboswitch using chemical and biophysical methods, including NMR and fluorescence spectroscopy, and single-molecule fluorescence imaging. The data reveal that the unliganded SAM-II riboswitch is dynamic in nature, in that its stem-loop element becomes engaged in a pseudoknot fold through base-pairing with nucleosides in the 3' overhang containing the Shine-Dalgarno sequence. Although the pseudoknot structure is highly transient in the absence of its ligand, S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), it becomes conformationally restrained upon ligand recognition, through a conformational capture mechanism. These insights provide a molecular understanding of riboswitch dynamics that shed new light on the mechanism of riboswitch-mediated translational regulation.