Exterior loop in RNA secondary structure

A single-stranded RNA molecule can fold back onto itself to form various loops delineated by double helical stems, as shown in the figure below [taken from the Nearest Neighbor Database website from the Turner group].

Various loops in RNA secondary structure

Of special note is the exterior loop (at the bottom) which includes the 5′ and 3′ ends of the sequence. The Mfold User Manual defines the exterior loop as such:

The collection of bases and base pairs not accessible from any base pair is called the exterior (or external) loop … . It is worth noting that if we imagine adding a 0th and an (n + 1)st base to the RNA, and a base pair 0.(n+1), then the exterior loop becomes the loop closed by this imaginary base pair. … The exterior loop exists only in linear RNA.

While each of the other loops (hairpin, bulge, internal or junction) forms a closed ‘circle’ with two neighboring bases connected by either a canonical pair or backbone covalent bond, the ‘exterior loop’ has only an imaginary pair to close the 5′ and 3′ ends of the sequence. Moreover, the two ends of an RNA molecule are not necessarily close in three-dimenional space, as may be implied in the above secondary structure diagram. For example, in the H-type pseudoknotted structure 1ymo from human telomerase RNA, the 5′ and 3′ ends are on the opposite sides.

DSSR does not has the concept of an ‘exterior loop’ due to its lack of a closing pair to form a ‘circle’. Instead, each of the 5′ and 3′ dangling ends is taken as a ‘non-loop single-stranded segment’, if applicable. For the crystal structure of yeast phenylalanine tRNA (1ehz, see the figure at the bottom), the relevant portion of DSSR output is as below. Note that since the 5′ end is paired, only the single-stranded region at the 3′ end is listed. Presumably, the ‘exterior loop’ in this case would also include the G1—C72 pair, with the imaginary closing pair connecting G1 and A76.

List of 1 non-loop single-stranded segment
   1 nts=4 ACCA A.A73,A.C74,A.C75,A.A76

yeast phenylalanine tRNA





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