Prediction of geometrically feasible three-dimensional structures of pseudoknotted RNA through free energy estimation

Jian Zhang, Joseph Dundas, Ming Lin, Rong Chen, Wei Wang, Jie Liang

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38 Scopus citations


Accurate free energy estimation is essential for RNA structure prediction. The widely used Turner's energy model works well for nested structures. For pseudoknotted RNAs, however, there is no effective rule for estimation of loop entropy and free energy. In this work we present a new free energy estimation method, termed the pseudoknot predictor in three-dimensional space (pk3D), which goes beyond Turner's model. Our approach treats nested and pseudoknotted structures alike in one unifying physical framework, regardless of how complex the RNA structures are. We first test the ability of pk3D in selecting native structures from a large number of decoys for a set of 43 pseudoknotted RNA molecules, with lengths ranging from 23 to 113. We find that pk3D performs slightly better than the Dirks and Pierce extension of Turner's rule. We then test pk3D for blind secondary structure prediction, and find that pk3D gives the best sensitivity and comparable positive predictive value (related to specificity) in predicting pseudoknotted RNA secondary structures, when compared with other methods. A unique strength of pk3D is that it also generates spatial arrangement of structural elements of the RNA molecule. Comparison of three-dimensional structures predicted by pk3D with the native structure measured by nuclear magnetic resonance or X-ray experiments shows that the predicted spatial arrangement of stems and loops is often similar to that found in the native structure. These close-tonative structures can be used as starting points for further refinement to derive accurate three-dimensional structures of RNA molecules, including those with pseudoknots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2248-2263
Number of pages16
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology


  • Pseudoknots
  • RNA free energy estimation
  • RNA secondary
  • RNA structure modeling
  • RNA structure prediction
  • Tertiary structure


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