RNA backbone: Consensus all-angle conformers and modular string nomenclature (an RNA Ontology Consortium contribution)

Jane S. Richardson, Bohdan Schneider, Laura W. Murray, Gary J. Kapral, Robert M. Immormino, Jeffrey J. Headd, David C. Richardson, Daniela Ham, Eli Hershkovits, Loren Dean Williams, Kevin S. Keating, Anna Marie Pyle, David Micallef, John Westbrook, Helen M. Berman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Scopus citations


A consensus classification and nomenclature are defined for RNA backbone structure using all of the backbone torsion angles. By a consensus of several independent analysis methods, 46 discrete conformers are identified as suitably clustered in a quality-filtered, multidimensional dihedral angle distribution. Most of these conformers represent identifiable features or roles within RNA structures. The conformers are given two-character names that reflect the seven-angle δεζαβγδ combinations empirically found favorable for the sugar-to-sugar "suite" unit within which the angle correlations are strongest (e.g., 1a for A-form, 5z for the start of S-motifs). Since the half-nucleotides are specified by a number for δεζ and a lowercase letter for αβγδ, this modular system can also be parsed to describe traditional nucleotide units (e.g., a1) or the dinucleotides (e.g., a1a1) that are especially useful at the level of crystallographic map fitting. This nomenclature can also be written as a string with two-character suite names between the uppercase letters of the base sequence (N1aG1gN1aR1aA1cN1a for a GNRA tetraloop), facilitating bioinformatic comparisons. Cluster means, standard deviations, coordinates, and examples are made available, as well as the Suitename software that assigns suite conformer names and conformer match quality (suiteness) from atomic coordinates. The RNA Ontology Consortium will combine this new backbone system with others that define base pairs, base-stacking, and hydrogen-bond relationships to provide a full description of RNA structural motifs. Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-481
Number of pages17
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology


  • Conformational strings
  • Multidimensional data analysis
  • RNA backbone conformation
  • RNA backbone torsion angles
  • RNA structural motifs
  • Structural bioinformatics

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