Most noncoding RNAs function properly only when folded into complex three-dimensional (3D) structures, but the experimental determination of these structures remains challenging. Understanding of primary microRNA (miRNA) maturation is currently limited by a lack of determined structures for nonprocessed forms of the RNA. SHAPE chemistry efficiently determines RNA secondary structural information with single-nucleotide resolution, providing constraints suitable for input into MC-Pipeline for refinement of 3D structure models. Here we combine these approaches to analyze three structurally diverse primary microRNAs, revealing deviations from canonical double-stranded RNA structure in the stem adjacent to the Drosha cut site for all three. The necessity of these deformable sites for efficient processing is demonstrated through Drosha processing assays. The structure models generated herein support the hypothesis that deformable sequences spaced roughly once per turn of A-form helix, created by noncanonical structure elements, combine with the necessary single-stranded RNA-double-stranded RNA junction to define the correct Drosha cleavage site.
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