An Assay For Quantifying Protein-RNA Binding In Bacteria

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In the initiation step of protein translation, the ribosome binds to the initiation region of the mRNA. Translation initiation can be blocked by binding of an RNA binding protein (RBP) to the initiation region of the mRNA, which interferes with ribosome binding. In the presented method, we utilize this blocking phenomenon to quantify the binding affinity of RBPs to their cognate and non-cognate binding sites. To do this, we insert a test binding site in the initiation region of a reporter mRNA and induce the expression of the test RBP. In the case of RBP-RNA binding, we observed a sigmoidal repression of the reporter expression as a function of RBP concentration. In the case of no-affinity or very low affinity between binding site and RBP, no significant repression was observed. The method is carried out in live bacterial cells, and does not require expensive or sophisticated machinery. It is useful for quantifying and comparing between the binding affinities of different RBPs that are functional in bacteria to a set of designed binding sites. This method may be inappropriate for binding sites with high structural complexity. This is due to the possibility of repression of ribosomal initiation by complex mRNA structure in the absence of RBP, which would result in lower basal reporter gene expression, and thus less-observable reporter repression upon RBP binding.