Analysis of crosslinked complexes of M1 RNA, the catalytic RNA subunit of ribonuclease P from Escherichia coli, and transfer RNA precursor substrates has led to the identification of regions in the enzyme and in the substrate that are in dose physical proximity to each other. The nucleotide in M1 RNA, residue C92, which participates in a crosslink with the substrate was deleted and the resulting mutant M1 RNA was shown to cleave substrates lacking the 3′ terminal CCAUCA sequence at sites several nucleotides away from the normal site of cleavage. The presence or absence of the 3′ terminal CCAUCA sequence in transfer RNA precursor substrates markedly affects the way in which these substrates interact with the catalytic RNA in the enzyme-substrate complex. The contacts between wild-type M1 RNA and its substrate are in a region that resembles part of the transfer RNA "E" (exit) site in 235 ribosomal RNA. These data demonstrate that in RNA's with very different cellular functions, there are domains with similar structural and functional properties and that there is a nucleotide in M1 RNA that affects the site of cleavage by the enzyme.
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