Visualizing the functional 3D shape and topography of long noncoding RNAs by single-particle atomic force microscopy and in-solution hydrodynamic techniques


  • T. Uroda
  • I. Chillón
  • P. Annibale
  • J.M. Teulon
  • O. Pessey
  • M. Karuppasamy
  • J.L. Pellequer
  • M. Marcia


  • Nature Protocols


  • Nat Protoc 15 (6): 2107-2139


  • Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are recently discovered transcripts that regulate vital cellular processes, such as cellular differentiation and DNA replication, and are crucially connected to diseases. Although the 3D structures of lncRNAs are key determinants of their function, the unprecedented molecular complexity of lncRNAs has so far precluded their 3D structural characterization at high resolution. It is thus paramount to develop novel approaches for biochemical and biophysical characterization of these challenging targets. Here, we present a protocol that integrates non-denaturing lncRNA purification with in-solution hydrodynamic analysis and single-particle atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging to produce highly homogeneous lncRNA preparations and visualize their 3D topology at ~15-Å resolution. Our protocol is suitable for imaging lncRNAs in biologically active conformations and for measuring structural defects of functionally inactive mutants that have been identified by cell-based functional assays. Once optimized for the specific target lncRNA of choice, our protocol leads from cloning to AFM imaging within 3-4 weeks and can be implemented using state-of-the-art biochemical and biophysical instrumentation by trained researchers familiar with RNA handling and supported by AFM and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) experts.