Highly motif- and organism-dependent effects of naturally occurring hammerhead ribozyme sequences on gene expression
Recent bioinformatics studies have demonstrated a wide-spread occurrence of the hammerhead ribozyme (HHR) and similar small endonucleolytic RNA motifs in all domains of life. It is becoming increasingly evident that such ribozyme motifs participate in important genetic processes in diverse organisms. Although the HHR motif has been studied for more than three decades, only little is known about the consequences of ribozyme activity on gene expression. In the present study we analysed eight different naturally occurring HHR sequences in diverse genetic and organismal contexts. We investigated the influence of active ribozymes incorporated into mRNAs in mammalian, yeast and bacterial expression systems. The experiments show an unexpectedly high degree of organism-specific variability of ribozyme-mediated effects on gene expression. The presented findings demonstrate that ribozyme cleavage profoundly affect gene expression. However, the extent of this effect varies and depends strongly on the respective genetic context. The fast-cleaving type 3 HHRs [CChMVd(-) and sLTSV(-)] generally tended to cause the strongest effects on intracellular gene expression. The presented results are important in order to address potential functions of naturally occurring ribozymes in RNA processing and post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. Additionally, our results are of interest for biotechnology and synthetic biology approaches that aim at the utilisation of self-cleaving ribozymes as widely applicable tools for controlling genetic processes.