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Transfer RNA Structure

  1. Eric Westhof,
  2. Pascal Auffinger

Published Online: 15 JUN 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000527.pub2



How to Cite

Westhof, E. and Auffinger, P. 2012. Transfer RNA Structure. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Université de Strasbourg, Architecture et Réactivité de l'ARN, IBMC, CNRS, Strasbourg Cedex, France

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUN 2012


Transfer ribonucleic acid (tRNA) molecules that participate in the elongation step of protein synthesis on the ribosome have a conserved secondary structure, known as the cloverleaf, and fold into a common three-dimensional architecture. The conservation of the global L-shaped 3D fold is assessed by the more than 100 available crystal structures showing tRNAs in native states or in complexes where tRNAs are bound to various interacting systems such as cognate synthetases, editing, modification and processing enzymes or full ribosomes. These tRNA crystal structures display a whole range of structural adaptability features encoded in their sequence and underlying their various functions. Thus, as the number of available structural data expands, the concept of a unique tRNA structure fades out for that of an ensemble of interconnected and environmentally dependant tRNA structures.

Key Concepts:

  • tRNAs display a huge sequence variability.

  • tRNA molecules fold with a conserved secondary structure.

  • The conservation of the secondary structure originatesbase covariations in Watson–Crick pairs of helices.

  • The tertiary folds of tRNAs present a striking adaptability.

  • The structural adaptabilities of tRNAs stem from the molecular neutrality present among the various noncovalent interactions.

  • Only a minimal number of conserved tertiary interactions are preserved.

  • The maintenance of some non-Watson–Crick pairs is key for the three-dimensional structure.

  • As a consequence of structural adaptability, tRNAs have acquired a greatdiversity in biological systems.

  • The structure and function of tRNAs is modulated by the type and concentration of the ions surrounding them.


  • transfer ribonucleic acid;
  • tRNA;
  • cloverleaf structure;
  • wobble hypothesis;
  • anticodon;
  • Watson–Crick pairs;
  • non-Watson–Crick pairs;
  • hydrogen bond;
  • Hoogsteen pairs;
  • dynamics;
  • solvation;
  • magnesium