The 28 S rRNA from several vertebrate species, when examined by electron microscopy, is seen to contain regions of extensive secondary structure, as first reported for HeLa-cell 28 S rRNA by Wellauer & Dawid [(1973) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 70, 2827-2831]. Here we correlate the locations of these regions, determined from the electron-microscopic data, with the primary structure of 28 S rRNA from human, mouse and Xenopus laevis determined by sequence analysis of rDNA. The secondary-structure features observed by electron microscopy correspond closely to phylogenetically variable G + C-rich regions that largely comprise the eukaryotic expansion segments in these three species. In most if not all cases the features can be identified with long G + C-rich helices deduced from sequence data. Correlations are given between the locations of the secondary-structure features and several ‘landmark’ restriction sites in 28 S rDNA. By correlating the locations of the rRNA methyl groups reported elsewhere [Maden (1988) J. Mol. Biol. 201, 289-314] with the present findings it is concluded that the rRNA secondary-structure features revealed by electron microscopy are largely or wholly unmethylated.

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