• RNA;
  • solvation;
  • salt


The functional forms of many RNAs have compact architectures. The placement of phosphates within such structures must be influenced not only by the strong electrostatic repulsion between phosphates, but also by networks of interactions between phosphates, water, and mobile ions. This review first explores what has been learned of the basic thermodynamic constraints on these arrangements from studies of hydration and ions in simple DNA molecules, and then gives an overview of what is known about ion and water interactions with RNA structures. A brief survey of RNA crystal structures identifies several interesting architectures in which closely spaced phosphates share hydration shells or phosphates are buried in environments that provide intramolecular hydrogen bonds or site-bound cations. Formation of these structures must require strong coupling between the uptake of ions and release of water. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers 99: 1105–1113, 2013.