January 27, 2012
A recent paper by Prof. Sam Cho and his collaborators at University of Maryland and Zhejiang University (China) was highlighted by the Journal of the American Chemical Society. In their study, they performed a novel ion-concentration coarse-grained MD simulation of the human telomerase RNA pseudoknot.
Normal cells shorten DNA after every replication cycle so that a cell knows when to die and cease replication. The telomerase enzyme that is found in cancerous cells, however, adds telomeres to the ends of DNA so that the cell avoids death. As a result, the DNA becomes unstable after too many replications, resulting in tumors that lead to cancer. Due to its importance, the discovery of the telomerase enzyme was the focus of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Prof. Cho and his coworkers focused on the RNA pseudoknot portion of the telomerase enzyme that is known to be critical for enzyme activity. Their study provided a key molecular-resolution support for the hypothesis that there are hidden states in the RNA folding process that were suggested in previous experiments. The generality of their results indicates similar folding mechanisms for other RNA molecules.