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REVIEW: Riboswitch Mechanisms: New Tricks for an Old Dog

Ascensión Ariza-Mateos1, Ashok Nuthanakanti1, and Alexander Serganov1,a*

1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, New York University Grossman School of Medicine, New York, New York 10016, USA

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received May 1, 2021; Revised May 1, 2021; Accepted May 19, 2021
Discovered almost twenty years ago, riboswitches turned out to be one of the most common regulatory systems in bacteria, with representatives found in eukaryotes and archaea. Unlike many other regulatory elements, riboswitches are entirely composed of RNA and capable of modulating expression of genes by direct binding of small cellular molecules. While bacterial riboswitches had been initially thought to control production of enzymes and transporters associated with small organic molecules via feedback regulatory circuits, later findings identified riboswitches directing expression of a wide range of genes and responding to various classes of molecules, including ions, signaling molecules, and others. The 5′-untranslated mRNA regions host a vast majority of riboswitches, which modulate transcription or translation of downstream genes through conformational rearrangements in the ligand-sensing domains and adjacent expression-controlling platforms. Over years, the repertoire of regulatory mechanisms employed by riboswitches has greatly expanded; most recent studies have highlighted the importance of alternative mechanisms, such as RNA degradation, for the riboswitch-mediated genetic circuits. This review discusses the plethora of bacterial riboswitch mechanisms and illustrates how riboswitches utilize different features and approaches to elicit various regulatory responses.
KEY WORDS: riboswitch, transcription, translation, mRNA, metabolite

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297921080071