The human double-stranded RNA- (dsRNA) activated protein kinase (PKR) has a dsRNA-binding domain (dsRBD) that contains two tandem copies of the dsRNA-binding motif (dsRBM). The minimal-length polypeptide required to bind dsRNA contains both dsRBMs, as determined by mobility-shift and filter- binding assays. Mobility-shift experiments indicate binding requires a minimum of 16 base pairs of dsRNA, while a minimal-length site for saturation of longer RNAs is 11 base pairs. Bulge defects in the helix disfavor binding, and single-stranded tails do not strongly influence the dsRNA length requirement. These polypeptides do not bind an RNA-DNA hybrid duplex or dsDNA as judged by either mobility-shift or competition experiments, suggesting 2'- OH contacts on both strands of the duplex stabilize binding. Related experiments on chimeric duplexes in which specific sets of 2'-OHs are substituted with 2'-H or 2'-OCH3 reveal that the 2'-OHs required for binding are located along the entire 11 basepair site. These results are supported by Fe(II) EDTA footprinting experiments that show protein-dependent protection of the minor groove of dsRNA. The dependence of dsRNA-protein binding on salt concentration suggests that only one ionic contact is made between the protein and dsRNA phosphate backbone and that at physiological salt concentrations 90% of the free energy of binding is nonelectrostatic. Thus, the specificity of PKR for dsRNA over RNA-DNA hybrids and dsDNA is largely due to molecular recognition of a network of 2'-OHs involving both strands of dsRNA and present along the entire 11 base-pair site.
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