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Deriving structural information from non-coding ribonucleic acids by mass spectrometry

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Title: Deriving structural information from non-coding ribonucleic acids by mass spectrometry
Author(s): Aho, Jari
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Department of Chemistry
Discipline: Analytical Chemistry
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2008
The purpose of this study is to describe the development of application of mass spectrometry for the structural analyses of non-coding ribonucleic acids during past decade. Mass spectrometric methods are compared of traditional gel electrophoretic methods, the characteristics of performance of mass spectrometric, analyses are studied and the future trends of mass spectrometry of ribonucleic acids are discussed. Non-coding ribonucleic acids are short polymeric biomolecules which are not translated to proteins, but which may affect the gene expression in all organisms. Regulatory ribonucleic acids act through transient interactions with key molecules in signal transduction pathways. Interactions are mediated through specific secondary and tertiary structures. Posttranscriptional modifications in the structures of molecules may introduce new properties to the organism, such as adaptation to environmental changes or development of resistance to antibiotics. In the scope of this study, the structural studies include i) determination of the sequence of nucleobases in the polymer chain, ii) characterisation and localisation of posttranscriptional modifications in nucleobases and in the backbone structure, iii) identification of ribonucleic acid-binding molecules and iv) probing of higher order structures in the ribonucleic acid molecule. Bacteria, archaea, viruses and HeLa cancer cells have been used as target organisms. Synthesised ribonucleic acids consisting of structural regions of interest have been frequently used. Electrospray ionisation (ESI) and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionisation (MALDI) have been used for ionisation of ribonucleic analytes. Ammonium acetate and 2-propanol are common solvents for ESI. Trihydroxyacetophenone is the optimal MALDI matrix for ionisation of ribonucleic acids and peptides. Ammonium salts are used in ESI buffers and MALDI matrices as additives to remove cation adducts. Reverse phase high performance liquid chromatography has been used for desalting and fractionation of analytes either off-line of on-line, coupled with ESI source. Triethylamine and triethylammonium bicarbonate are used as ion pair reagents almost exclusively. Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance analyser using ESI coupled with liquid chromatography is the platform of choice for all forms of structural analyses. Time-of-flight (TOF) analyser using MALDI may offer sensitive, easy-to-use and economical solution for simple sequencing of longer oligonucleotides and analyses of analyte mixtures without prior fractionation. Special analysis software is used for computer-aided interpretation of mass spectra. With mass spectrometry, sequences of 20-30 nucleotides of length may be determined unambiguously. Sequencing may be applied to quality control of short synthetic oligomers for analytical purposes. Sequencing in conjunction with other structural studies enables accurate localisation and characterisation of posttranscriptional modifications and identification of nucleobases and amino acids at the sites of interaction. High throughput screening methods for RNA-binding ligands have been developed. Probing of the higher order structures has provided supportive data for computer-generated three dimensional models of viral pseudoknots. In conclusion. mass spectrometric methods are well suited for structural analyses of small species of ribonucleic acids, such as short non-coding ribonucleic acids in the molecular size region of 20-30 nucleotides. Structural information not attainable with other methods of analyses, such as nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray crystallography, may be obtained with the use of mass spectrometry. Sequencing may be applied to quality control of short synthetic oligomers for analytical purposes. Ligand screening may be used in the search of possible new therapeutic agents. Demanding assay design and challenging interpretation of data requires multidisclipinary knowledge. The implement of mass spectrometry to structural studies of ribonucleic acids is probably most efficiently conducted in specialist groups consisting of researchers from various fields of science.

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