The DEAD-box proteins CYT-19 in Neurospora crassa and Mss116p in Saccharomyces cerevisiae are broadly acting RNA chaperones that function in mitochondria to stimulate group I and group II intron splicing and activate mRNA translation. Previous studies showed that the S. cerevisiae cytosolic/nuclear DEAD-box protein Ded1p could stimulate group II intron splicing in vitro. Here, we show that Ded1p complements the mitochondrial translation and group I and II intron splicing defects in mss116Delta strains, stimulates the in vitro splicing of group I as well as group II introns, and functions indistinguishably from CYT-19 to resolve different non-native secondary and/or tertiary structures in the Tetrahymena thermophila LSU-DeltaP5abc group I intron. The Escherichia coli DEAD-box protein SrmB also stimulates group I and II intron splicing in vitro, while the E. coli DEAD-box protein DbpA and vaccinia virus DExH-box protein NPH-II gave little if any group I or II intron splicing stimulation in vitro or in vivo. The four DEAD-box proteins that stimulate group I and II intron splicing unwind RNA duplexes by local strand separation and have little or no specificity, as judged by RNA-binding assays and stimulation of their ATPase activity by diverse RNAs. By contrast, DbpA binds group I and II intron RNAs non-specifically, but its ATPase activity is activated specifically by a helical segment of E. coli 23S rRNA, and NPH-II unwinds RNAs by directional translocation. The ability of DEAD-box proteins to stimulate group I and II intron splicing correlates primarily with their RNA-unwinding activity, which for the protein preparations used here was greatest for Mss116p, followed by Ded1p, CYT-19, and SrmB. Further, this correlation holds for all group I and II intron RNAs tested, implying a fundamentally similar mechanism for both types of introns. Our results support the hypothesis that DEAD-box proteins have an inherent ability to function as RNA chaperones by virtue of their distinctive RNA-unwinding mechanism, which enables refolding of localized RNA regions or structures without globally disrupting RNA structure.
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