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Lafontaine lab :: Research

Riboswitches: a newly discovered regulation mechanism

Riboswitches are genetic control elements that are located on the 5'-untranslated region of some messenger RNAs. These particular genetic switches exhibit two surprising properties. Firstly, the mRNA harboring the riboswitch is able to form a highly selective binding site for a target metabolite without the aid of proteins. Secondly, metabolite binding promotes an allosteric reorganization of RNA structure that leads to alterations in genetic expression.

Our research focuses on purine riboswitches that are the simplest riboswitches known so far. This group is composed of the adenine and guanine riboswitches that share a very similar tertiary structure. Strikingly, both molecules use a different metabolite (adenine or guanine) to perform two different essential biological functions. We study how these RNA molecules are using their cognate metabolites to achieve their genetic regulation without the help of proteins.

Pathogenous bacteria and artificial riboswitches

Given their essential function and their high level of evolutionary conservation, riboswitches are potentially interesting targets for antibiotic research. Morevoer, since riboswitches naturally bind small metabolites (i.e., nucleobases), it is possible to use already existing molecular databases.

We are also interested in creating artificial riboswitches having very precise functions. They could be used for the dectection of small compounds produced as precursors of diverse pathologies. When couple to fluorescent proteins (GFP and the likes), these molecular detectors could have a major impact in preventive detection of human pathologies.