Ribonucleic acid structure determination by NMR spectroscopy relies primarily on local structural restraints provided by 1H-1H NOEs and J-couplings. When employed loosely, these restraints are broadly compatible with A- and B-like helical geometries and give rise to calculated structures that are highly sensitive to the force fields employed during refinement. A survey of recently reported NMR structures reveals significant variations in helical parameters, particularly the major groove width. Although helical parameters observed in high-resolution X-ray crystal structures of isolated A-form RNA helices are sensitive to crystal packing effects, variations among the published X-ray structures are significantly smaller than those observed in NMR structures. We have shown that restraints derived from aromatic 1H-13C residual dipolar couplings (RDCs) and residual chemical shift anisotropies (RCSAs) can overcome NMR restraint and force field deficiencies and afford structures with helical properties similar to those observed in high-resolution X-ray structures. In collaboration with M.F. Summers, we are exploring the use of this technology to characterize the dynamics of the >700-nt HIV1 leader sequence that regulates packaging of its genome.

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U.S. National Inst Diabetes/Digst/Kidney
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